“We are dead no matter what. All of us here in this large area of the Damascus countryside are prisoners. We’re all just waiting for a shell, an airstrike, a rocket to come and make corpses of us in a matter of seconds. Even those who survive these attacks will die, perhaps from hunger, or perhaps from the lack of medicine. No one will pay attention to us as long as our murderer is Bashar al-Assad, who has been granted four years of international endorsement to exterminate us with all means at his disposal here in the Eastern Ghouta of Damascus, where death alone reigns," said Adem, a university student.
"This is another Kobani, and Assad is crucifying and killing it without any coverage by the international media.”
Adem was referring to the area he lives as it undergoes dramatic shifts following the international coalition’s military intervention to eliminate ISIS terrorism in Syria.
Adem said that since international coalition attacks began against the so-called Islamic State, Assad’s killing machine has destroyed the lives of the civilians of Eastern Ghouta in the hundreds through widespread bombardment and killing campaigns.
The regime, according to Adem, has begun killing many more civilians than it previously had, as if it has been given the green light to intensify its crimes as long as the world is busy waging war against ISIS, a group that Adam considers to be "invented".
The focus on ISIS, he said, gives the main criminal the freedom, time, and cover he needs to pursue its war of extermination against Eastern Ghouta, which began at the outset of the revolution. Adem argued that the inhabitants of Eastern Ghouta are against ISIS and extremism, but know that defeating its extremism begins with Assad, who is the beast’s head, he said, not its tail.
One fighter in Eastern Ghouta spoke about the regime’s increasing military pressure on the Eastern Ghouta in August and September. The number of bombardments and air raids, the number of killed and wounded, and the level of general destruction have increased at an unprecedented rate, and the regime made more frequent assaults against the area and regained control of new locations.
This increased military pressure has helped sow chaos and terror among the civilian population, especially since the regime clearly seems determined to regain control over Eastern Ghouta, where more than 1.2 million civilians – all potential targets for Assad forces – now live.
A military unit under the unified military command in Ghouta was responsible for a string of successive military withdrawals in recent days from a number of opposition-controlled areas.
This was a shock to the besieged inhabitants of the area, which stretches from Adra al-Balad to Adra al-Ummaliyyah and the al-Dukhaniyyah area inside of Damascus. The withdrawals have allowed the regime to reenter these areas and regain control over them – the regime has progressed deep into Eastern Ghouta and now threatens to reestablish its presence there and stage assaults on neighboring areas.
The unified military command, under the leadership of Zahran Alloush, has not provided any clear reasons for this withdrawal, encouraging speculation about the reasons for it. This speculation includes accusations of treason, and arguments that the withdrawals have incited chaos and frightened the inhabitants about the possibility that the regime will enter the rest of the cities of Eastern Ghouta following whatever additional withdrawals may come, which would allow the regime to massacre the civilians who still live there.
Eastern Ghouta’s cities have faced a very violent military campaign by the regime’s army since the beginning of August. The regime has launched a large number of air raids and committed more than 20 massacres in Eastern Ghouta, resulting in the deaths of nearly 500 people, most of whom were civilians. Populated areas have been targeted with thermobaric bombs, guided missiles, artillery, mortars, and other weapons. Eastern Ghouta has been struck by more than 300 air raids on targets including civilian areas such as Douma, Hamouriyyah, Ain Tarma, Arbin, Deir Asafir, Zabdin, Kafr Batna, and other cities, and fighting fronts including Jobar, al-Dukhaniyyah, Ain Tarma, and Adra, which have been targeted by air raids and continually bombarded with ground-to-ground rockets.
The regime has launched a campaign against the areas of Eastern Ghouta generally and the city of Douma in particular. Douma, the largest city in the province of rural Damascus, is most famous for confronting the regime, and is the most overcrowded city in the area. The regime’s campaign intensified on September 3, when regime-aligned forces committed a massacre in the city of Douma, killing seven civilians by targeting a residential building with heavy artillery rounds, causing it to collapse. The area has also faced subsequent air raids and massacres that have not stopped until today, and the number of massacres in Douma alone has reached 13.
The massacre in Douma that took place on September 11, 2014 was one of the largest in Syria in the month of September. Warplanes launched six raids that targeted overcrowded neighborhoods, killing 70 people and injuring more than 250 others. Another terrifying massacre followed during Eid al-Adha, when two air raids targeted a street in the middle of a crowded market just as another raid targeted a five-story improvised residential building. Some 40 people were killed in these two raids and dozens more were wounded. Other massacres in the city had the same character and perpetrator.
The daily raids, terrorism, and killing performed by Assad’s army against civilians in Ghouta have not stopped: air raids targeted the town of ‘Ain Tarma on September 6, 2014, leading to six deaths, and also struck the town of Hamouriyyah, killing 20 people in another massacre on September 16. Yet another massacre in the same town followed on September 22, 2014, when Hamouriyyah was targeted by four air raids that killed a total of 13 civilians.
Elsewhere in Ghouta, the pictures of 30 people, including children, killed in a new massacre committed by Assad’s army on October 9, 2014 in the city of Arbin were published on that city’s news pages. The official medical office in the city stated that almost 175 others were wounded in the air raids, which targeted a crowded market.
The regime has regained control over Adra al-Balad, Adra al-Umalliyah, Tal Kurdi, and Tal Sawan, adjacent to the city of Douma. The opposition had taken these areas at the beginning of 2013, but one week ago the regime made its most aggressive attempts to storm the town of Rayhan, leaving many killed and wounded, spreading panic and causing inhabitants to flee from the region.
As one resident said, “Where can we go? All of the areas surrounding us are under siege and are being targeted by continuous artillery fire. The area is entirely closed. We carry our children around in a closed circle that is surrounded by death on all sides.”
The other inhabitants, especially those living in the city, express extreme anxiety about the possibility of the regime entering the crowded residential areas, and fear that it will commit large-scale massacres that will be met with silence.
One former worker, Abed al-Salam, who lost three members of his family in one of the most recent air raids and is trapped in the city of Douma, expressed despair towards the international community and the international media, which ignore the massacres that have been perpetrated by the regime in the region for the past four years while focusing all of their attention on a single city, Ayn al-Arab (also known as Kobani). He asked if the killing performed by Assad is justified, since the world seems to only care about crimes committed by ISIS.
"Does the international community really equate ISIS, a recently-formed organization, with a criminal who controls a state and an organized army, and has been able for years to destroy cities and butcher an entire people?"
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer