Enab Baladi – Eastern al-Ghouta
In the middle of February, regime forces launched a military campaign on the neighborhoods of Qaboun and Barzeh, which were under the control of opposition forces in Damascus. The campaign was accompanied with an escalation of attacks on the cities and towns of Eastern al-Ghouta, which has been under intensive bombardment in recent days, causing widespread destruction and killing dozens of civilians.
The escalation has targeted Qaboun, Barzeh and Western Harasta, in addition to the neighborhood of Tachrin. It was accompanied by intensive bombing of the city of Douma in particular, along with the other cities and towns of al-Ghouta. The roads leading to the neighborhood of Barzeh were closed to civilians, which negatively impacted the lives of the local residents of al-Ghouta.
Residents of Harasta the Worst Affected
The inhabitants of the city of Harasta were displaced in 2012 due to intensive bombardment and many moved to the city’s western neighborhoods. According to the deputy head of the city’s local council, Hussam Beiruti, the rates of emigration rose in 2013 to 95% of the total population.
After a truce was agreed in Qaboun and Barzeh in 2014, locals returned to Harasta. Beiruti says that 3500 families returned and the percentage of residents who had left fell to 60%. According to him, after the launch of the latest campaign, all those families left the area again and the western part of the city has become nearly completely deserted.
“The military campaign has created a tragic humanitarian situation on all levels”, added Beiruti. “The locals were planning to stay in the area, since it had been quiet to an extent for more than two years”.
He says that the launch of the campaign was sudden, pushing civilians in Harasta “to leave with only what they could carry”. Beiruti called on international organizations to put pressure on the regime to stop the assault “in order to avoid an even more dangerous humanitarian situation than we have today”. To address the catastrophic situation caused by the campaign, Beiruti suggests “increasing support to civic institutions to carry out projects to assure a reserve stock of basic goods for what could be a long siege.”
Campaign causes increase in prices of goods and fuel
Despite the battles taking place on various fronts in al-Ghouta and the siege imposed on the area, food and fuel products were still available before the latest military campaign. However, the campaign has had an impact on all aspects of life in the city, with residents of the two neighborhoods and al-Ghouta the worst affected.
Samih Ramadan, the owner of a pastry shop in the town of Mesraba, says that he and other business owners have been affected by the high costs of basic goods. In an interview with Enab Baladi, Samih said that he had replaced gas and petrol with wood, as gas and petrol had practically disappeared.
Ramadan also mentioned the difference in prices of many goods. A 50-kilo bag of sugar usually costing 21,000 lira was now sold for 35,000 and the price of a bag of flour has increased from 27,000 to 35,000 lira. He added, “Because deserts are now considered a luxury in al-Ghouta, most people have stopped buying them. This doesn’t just affect the demand for products, it also has an impact on workers who make a living out of making them.”
Muadh Darwish, who owns a bakery in Douma, spoke about the damage the campaign had caused to bakeries. He told Enab Baladi that gasoline is scarce, which has led to a rise in the price of a loaf of bread from 325 to 600 lira, adding that the price of one liter of gasoline has risen from 700 to 2000 lira, if one can find it at all.
The military assault has also had an impact on schools in the area. Douma’s Directorate of Education announced a decision to suspend classes for all pupils and college students in the last week of February. With the continuation of the military campaign and the daily targeting of the city, many are concerned that the suspension will last even longer.
The General Assembly of Eastern al-Ghouta, which brings together residents and organizations from different cities and towns, has put forward a proposed strategy to combat monopolies. According to the head of the Assembly, Mohammed Solomon Dahlan, the plan, which was presented to the office of the Rif Dimashq Province, aims to ensure food security for the residents before prices rise dramatically.
Dahlan confirmed that the Provincial Council “is working to issue a strategy soon”. He added that other plans to avoid the devastating effects of the military campaign are being developed “through the Central Disasters Committee, which the Assembly work to set up a few months ago and which has now been established in the Provincial Office”.
Medical sector also affected
The impact of the military campaign has also been reflected in the medical sector. The regime banned the entry of medical equipment into al-Ghouta more than once during the military escalation. Najm al-Deen al Shami, the administrative director of the Rif Dimashq specialist hospital attributes the situation to “the strict security measures taken by the regime”.
A medical convoy containing 46 vehicles, according to al-Shami’s estimates, was not allowed to enter the city until 4 March. The convoy contains important medical supplies including vaccines and dialysis equipment for sufferers of kidney failure, as well as food. The number of injuries being recorded in emergency medical centers in al-Ghouta has risen. According to the administrative director, “Many of the hospitalized cases require medical equipment that is not available in al-Ghouta, which is a real problem for us”.
The fate of the neighborhoods of Qaboun and Barzeh remains unknown as the regime seeks to empty them of all the members of opposition factions. This has had a direct impact on the cities and towns of al-Ghouta. The regime shifted its attention to these areas after the areas around the Barada River to the west of Damascus were evacuated in mid-December last year.