Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Trapped in Eastern Ghouta

Syrian rebels and government forces are both preventing civilians fleeing the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, according to a teacher who has been trying to get his family out.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Ghafour, 43, a teacher of Arabic, spoke of their abortive attempt to escape.

“I live in Douma [in the north of Eastern Ghouta] and have three children who are all under 15,” he says. “I tried to send my family out, but the opposition militants prevent all families leaving.” He adds that even the extensive networks of independent smugglers, who used to bring goods secretly into Eastern Ghouta and sometimes smuggle people out, would not help him because they work with the rebel movements in control of Eastern Ghouta.

“I tried but in vain,” he recalls, describing how one of the rebel local commanders, probably from the Army of Islam that controls this part of the besieged enclave, caught Ghafour and his family last Thursday when they were trying to move from Douma to another opposition held-district further west called Harasta. “He shouted at me and said, ‘You should stay here and support our fight against the regime, and you should not even send your wife and children away. If we send our families out, our morale will go down and we will lose.”’

Ghafour returned home with his family and says that they expect to be killed at any moment. Even so, he is sympathetic to the rebels who are stopping him and his family escaping. “I am not fighting myself, but I go and see the fighters nearby and offer help in case it is needed,” he says. He is fearful of government reprisals, saying that it is dangerous even to use the Syriatel mobile network because “calls are recorded by the regime”. “A friend of mine was arrested last month because of some calls he made in Douma before moving from there to regime-held areas,” he adds.

He says that it has now become impossible to cross from Harasta or Douma to government-held territory, as had previously been possible, because “the regime will not let them go to its areas”. As a result, he and his family remain in their house, terrified and confused about what will happen next after a week of continual shelling and bombing. “I lost two friends of mine in Shafouniya yesterday in an air strike,” he says.

Ghafour was speaking just as the UN Security Council passed its resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which has led to some easing of the bombing and shelling that has already killed 500 people in Eastern Ghouta over the last week. This was also before allegations that Syrian government forces had been using chlorine gas.

What does emerge is that the armed opposition groups in Eastern Ghouta as well as the government have been stopping people leaving. This is confirmed by a UN-backed report called Reach, which says: “Women of all ages, and children, reportedly continued to be forbidden by local armed groups from leaving the area for security reasons.” This has been the pattern in all the many sieges in Syria conducted by all sides who do not want their own enclaves depopulated and wish to retain as much of the civilian population as possible as human shields.

But Ghafour is right in thinking that he and his family would have a great deal to be frightened of even if they did manage to make their way to government lines. Men of military age, in particular, are likely to be detained because they are suspected of being rebel fighters or because they are liable to be conscripted into the Syrian army. Detention might be immediate or happen later at any one of the thousands of government checkpoints. These often act like border crossings and ill-paid soldiers and police will look for a bribe, especially from those who come originally from rebel-held areas.

But there is another reason why people fleeing Eastern Ghouta might be in danger in government held-Damascus. Seven years of civil war has ensured that Syrians on different sides, many of whom will have lost relatives in the violence, regard each other with undiluted hatred. In Damascus, the shellfire and bombing are largely by the government into rebel areas, but there is also outgoing fire from Eastern Ghouta, mostly from mortars, into government-controlled districts.

Rania, 22, a fourth-year student of English literature at Damascus University, explained to The Independent what had happened in her area and what was the local reaction to it. She lives in the Dwel’a neighbourhood, which is a government-held area but located between two opposition-controlled zones, Ayn Tarma to the north and Mukhayyam Al Yarmouk to the south.

“Our neighbourhood has been shelled once or twice a week by opposition militants since last year, but since last week the shelling has intensified and is happening every day,” she says. She and her friends have been stranded in their houses for a week and cannot even go out to buy food. The army, and local young men willing to take the risk, have been supplying them.

“People are being killed every day in our neighbourhood,” Rania says. “Yesterday, a shell hit the balcony of our neighbour’s house and killed his daughter who was a university student.”

There are similar incidents every day. One house near to Rania’s was hit by a rocket and a mother and her three-year-old child were killed.

As a result of this, Rania says that people in her district speak about “what is happening in Ghouta in a very negative way”. This means they are all in favour of the use of maximum force against it. She says that “a shopkeeper in our locality lost his son in Ghouta. He was serving in the Syrian army and, while he and his unit were trying to break into Eastern Ghouta, he was killed along with several others soldiers. The shopkeeper and many who lost their sons say that even the children of Ghouta should be killed because ‘if they grow up, they will be terrorists as well’.”

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again
George Capaccio
Bloody Monday, Every Day of the Week
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Swing Status, Be Gone
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail