Closing the single commercial crossing in Damascus’ Eastern Ghouta, immediately after the beginning of the military attack, might be a sufficient indicator to the economic policies lurking within the attack itself, which effect might exceed that of military movements.
A siege within a siege is the reality imposed on more that 300 thousand people in the locked-up area; the international efforts failed to lighten the military and the economic pressure placed on it by Assad’s forces and their Russian allies, which are trying to take the area over and secure the belt surrounding the capital, Damascus.
A Message in the Form of Threat and Rapid Execution
On February 9, Assad’s forces shut the al-Wafddien Camp’s crossing in the face of commodities and food-related materials entering Ghouta, which has been confirmed by the Director of the Consumers Institution in the city of Hamouriyah, Ismayel al-Munajed, who pointed out that the Syrian regime has sent threats to the area with the merchant Mohyeddin al-Manfoush, who was commercially in control of the crossing.
The threat was rapidly executed, for Assad’s forces, at the beginning of a massive military attack, which started on February 19, 2018, targeted both al-Manfhoush’s bakeries and dairy factory, as well as warehouses, according to what the media activist Salam Abu Hozayfa has informed Enab Baladi, who added that al-Manfoush’s bakeries used to provide Eastern Ghouta with bread, and that they were rendered out of service.
The shelling affected most of the public and private bakeries in Saqba, Duma, Kafr Batna and Hamouriyah, while the reset became out of service.
The shelling was not limited to the merchant’s warehouses because it also targeted the ones belonging to relief associations and humanitarian organizations in the area.
In last November, the merchant conducted a deal with the regime, of 20 million dollars, providing for the entry of food-related materials to the area in return for an imposed royalty paid to the regime, the amount of which was two thousand Syrian pounds for each kilogram (one dollar equals 470 Syrian Pounds).
The Director of Programs Department in the Adaleh Foundation (Justice) Alaa Abu Jaafar told Enab Baladi that Assad’s forces targeted the Foundation’s livestock project, the kitchen and the charitable pharmacy since the beginning of the attack, adding that there are no accurate statistics about the targeted warehouses in the meantime. The shelling targeted the Charity Association in Duma and Zeyd Bin Sabet Organization in the city of Hamouriyah, in addition to the repeated attacks against the cars that distribute food to people.
Paralyzing the Markets
The shelling focused on the vital and residential areas in Eastern Ghouta, for hospitals and markets had the fairest share of bombardment.
The number of the targeted medical points is over 22 centers, according to a report issued by “Doctors without Borders” Organization, which showed concern about the medical supplies that are running out in Eastern Ghouta.
The area’s markets were rendered out of service due to the repeated shelling, according to Enab Baladi’s sources, which pointed out that a number of shops were destroyed, and a fire began in Hamouriyah’s market after it was targeted with rockets carrying incendiary materials, which led to the damage of massive amounts of food materials.
The shelling also targeted the markets in the towns of Hazeh, Ein Tarma and Saqba. Enab Baladi’s reporter in Eastern Ghouta said that the intensified shelling resulted in closing a number of roads between the towns and cities, which paralyzed the movement there.
A Siege within a Siege
Mouaz Kharbutli, based in the city of Kafr Batna, said that the people are collecting the remaining food and related materials in the basements to have one or two meals a day according to their resources and the available materials, describing the situation as a siege within a siege; other people are collecting winter herbs such as Mallow, spinach and chard from the agricultural lands in Ghouta to cook them, but they are most of the time unable to leave the basements.
According to The Director of Programs Department in the Adaleh Foundation (Justice) Alaa Abu Jaafar, many people have not left their houses for days and most of the people are still working to make their daily living just like before. Due to the attack, many citizens have closed their shops, which already lack many expensive commodities.
He also added that relief organizations are working hard to help the people besieged in their houses; they cook and prepare meals for distribution; however, shutting down the commercial crossing is hindering the processes of money transference, the thing which limited these organizations’ activities.
Eastern Ghouta joined the “de-escalation” agreement which has been approved by the guarantor States (Turkey, Russia and Iran) during the “Astana” Talks, last July, via an Egyptian intermediary. The agreement guarantees alleviating the siege over Ghouta, admission of basic materials without obstacles, royalties or taxes, in addition to releasing all the detainees from all the parties that are addressed by the agreement. But none of these provisions was implemented.
How Does Money Enter Ghouta?
Most of the civil associations and organizations are doing all that they can do to help the people. Nonetheless, it does not matter how large an organization is because it would not be able to meet all the urgent needs due to the lacking resources, according to the Director of the Programs Department in Adaleh Foundation, who believes that the economic crisis which Ghouta is suffering cannot be contained without breaking the siege and allowing for commercial exchange, without imposing taxes, for when the regime enters limited supplies to the area; it only allows their entry in return for a tax that might reach 30 doubles of its price in Damascus, the capital.
“Molham” Volunteering Team, which is currently working to launch a donation campaign for Ghouta, explained, on its “Facebook” page, that some merchants have warehouses with stored food-related materials, before the al-Wafddien Camp’s crossing was closed and that relief teams are forced to buy these materials for high prices to help the people, a thing that was confirmed Abu Jaafer, who added that the organizations must deal with the merchants to transfer the donations.
According to Enab Baladi’s sources, the money transference route is closed and that the process is limited to recycling money between the concerned people inside and outside Ghouta. The merchants receive the money that must be transferred via their agents outside Ghouta, and then they deliver the same amount of money from their savings inside Ghouta to organizations or citizens.
As for the commission, it exceeded 8% of the transferred money. These processes are conducted by exchange offices, some of which belong to the merchants inside Ghouta themselves.
The merchants compensate for their loss, the money paid for commissions, by selling food-related materials and the commodities they store for high prices.
Mouaz Kharbutli said that “under the conditions that we are living, the families which have money are equal to those who do not, for both are unable to get a day’s supply, as the markets have been destroyed and the military aircrafts are still destroying the remaining ones.”
Paralyzing the area’s movement turned the people’s houses into a second prison, in a similar context to that of Eastern Aleppo in 2016.
The United Nations (UN) warned that the area, close to the capital city, might turn to a second Aleppo if the shelling continues targeting the opposition-held part, considering that the situation is “spiraling out of control.”