Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1384, (8 - 14 March 2018)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1384, (8 - 14 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

‘Hell on Earth’

On Monday, a UN convoy managed to reach several besieged villages in Eastern Ghouta, Syria, for the first time since the conflict escalated in that area three weeks ago. Opposition groups report that more than 700 civilians were killed since Syria’s army unleashed air strikes on Eastern Ghouta on 18 February in a bid to root out terrorist groups that control the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
While key world powers, namely Russia, the United States, France and Britain, were exchanging heated accusations over the parties responsible for this latest round of escalation of killing in the Arab country of Syria, Egypt has set itself a different agenda: to provide any assistance possible to ease the suffering of Syrian civilians, away from any political calculations and trading charges.
The first UN convoy was expected to provide food to nearly 30,000 people besieged in Eastern Ghouta, and a second convoy was expected in three days to provide food for another 40,000 people. While opposition groups, with many fighters linked to terrorist groups such as IS, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, blame government forces, with Russian backing, for the heavy human losses, the regime in Damascus insists that it cannot allow these groups to continue threatening the civilian residents of the capital with their missiles and mortars
By putting the interest of the Syrian people first, Egypt was able to mediate between the warring factions to allow the humanitarian assistance to reach Eastern Ghouta. That was the same position Cairo took in recent years by working to mediate the creation of “areas of reduced tension” in Syria in order to ease the suffering of millions of civilians, who have been the main victims of this ugly war over the past seven years.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was entirely correct when he described the situation in Eastern Ghouta as “hell on earth”. But using such terrifying expressions is not enough. There has been to be immediate collective international action to put an end to this Syrian nightmare.
Countries that provide the terrorist groups fighting in Syria with weapons and funds should immediately stop doing so. The residents of Eastern Ghouta should not be held hostage by these groups in order to be able to continue holding ground in that strategic area overlooking the capital. It cannot be a coincidence that not a single civilian has left Eastern Ghouta since the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities last week.
 Veto-wielding member Russia accepted the resolution but, together with the regime in Damascus, insisted that it did not apply to the rebels fighting in Eastern Ghouta, which they regard as members of terrorist groups banned by the United Nations. Moscow has instead established daily humanitarian pauses from 9am to 2pm, hardly enough to provide much needed help to civilians in that area, nearing 400,000 people. The UN could be of great help if it could work out a negotiated withdrawal of opposition fighters and their families, like the one that took place in Aleppo in December 2016.
The fate of Syria should be decided by the Syrian people alone, without the intervention of regional and international powers. After seven years of war, it also became clear that maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria, far from scenarios of dividing the country, should also be a top priority. The Syrian regime is indeed to be blamed for many atrocities that were committed against its own people, but the alternative cannot be siding with terrorist groups with close ties to IS and Al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, if the United States and European countries were so outspoken about the ongoing fighting in Eastern Ghouta, it remains a mystery why the same powers found it acceptable that Turkey continued bombing towns along its border with Syria with the claim of fighting Kurdish rebels tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The latest Security Council resolution, approved 24 February, calls for an immediate ceasefire for 30 days across all of Syria, and not only in Eastern Ghouta. If the fighting in that enclave should come to an end immediately, the same applies to the illegal Turkish intervention and invasion of Syrian territory near Afrin. Those killed in Afrin are certainly not different from Syrians who are being killed in Eastern Ghouta, whether by the regime or by terrorist groups who have received documented Turkish support over the past seven years.
All fighting in Syria should stop, and countries that care about this great nation should give priority to the interest of millions of Syrians who were displaced or forced to flee their country.

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