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Uncertain Fate Awaits Civilians Hiding in Underground Shelters in E. Ghouta


Children stand near curtains in a shelter in the besieged town of Douma, eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria, March 11, 2018.

Civilians in eastern Ghouta are facing an uncertain fate, as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and its allies are tightening their grip on the area.

Eastern Ghouta, one of the last rebel-held enclaves in Syria, is 60 percent under the control of the Syrian regime, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Monday.

Syrian activists and aid workers appeal daily for an end to the bombardment of civilian populated areas.

Siraj Mahmood, a spokesperson for the White Helmets rescue group in eastern Ghouta, told VOA that men, women and children are hiding in underground shelters under indescribable conditions.

This March 11, 2018 photo, provided by Deana Lynn, from Detroit, Michigan, shows her, with her kids and other Syrian children at a shelter where they hide from Russian and Syrian government forces airstrikes, in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus.
This March 11, 2018 photo, provided by Deana Lynn, from Detroit, Michigan, shows her, with her kids and other Syrian children at a shelter where they hide from Russian and Syrian government forces airstrikes, in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus.

"We ask why the cease-fire in eastern Ghouta was not applied, despite all talks and agreements, even for one hour a day, just to let civilians breathe fresh air," Mahmood said.

The Syrian government forces' rapid advance splintered eastern Ghouta into three sections, and it facilitated the capture of the area that had been besieged for five years.

Final onslaught

Eastern Ghouta, part of a larger agricultural area surrounding Damascus called Ghouta, is controlled by the anti-Assad rebel groups known as Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaysh al-Islam. It's home to more than 390,000 civilians.

Jaysh al-Islam, a Syrian opposition group formed in 2013, announced Monday that an agreement brokered by the U.N. was reached with Russia to evacuate the injured to a safe place for treatment.

"In the framework of the U.N. Resolutions 2254 and 2401, we have reached an agreement with Russia, mediated by the U.N., to evacuate the injured from eastern Ghouta to receive treatment, due to the shortage of medical aid, ban of medications for six years, targeting [of] hospitals and medical points," Jaysh al-Islam said in its official statement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based rights group monitoring the situation in Syria, reported the death toll reached 1,160. A majority were killed after the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2401 to cease hostilities in eastern Ghouta for 30 days.

Failed U.N. cease-fire

The U.N. Security Council held a meeting Monday to discuss the stalled resolution.

A man gestures as he sits in a shelter in the besieged town of Douma, eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria, March 11, 2018.
A man gestures as he sits in a shelter in the besieged town of Douma, eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria, March 11, 2018.

Last month, the security council unanimously adopted Resolution 2401, calling for all parties to put down their arms, lift the siege on populated areas, enable the evacuation of civilians who wish to leave and accelerate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The resolution did not take effect, and humanitarian efforts to deliver aid into eastern Ghouta were thwarted. Guterres told the security council Monday that the Syrian regime had removed most of the medical supplies that were to be delivered to eastern Ghouta on March 5.

Thousands of Syrians are in desperate need of medical care, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said Monday. She added that there has been almost no delivery of medical equipment because the Assad regime removed it.

Haley warned that the United States "remains prepared to act, if we must."

"It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take. And we are prepared to take again. When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action," Haley warned.

The Syrian conflict will be entering its eighth year in mid-March. The observatory said more than 500,000 civilians were killed in the past seven years. Of those, about 85 percent were killed by the Syrian regime and its allied militias.

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