Eva Bartlett breaks down the dizzying array of information surrounding the mounting humanitarian crisis in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta. With accusations abound, parsing the reality on the ground is becoming more challenging by the day.
by Eva Bartlett
Part 5 - Targeting of Afrin civilians met with relative silence
While UNICEF on January 26 noted having received “alarming reports” regarding children’s deaths in Afrin, it hasn’t thus far expressed outrage at the Turkish murder of civilians in the northwestern Syrian town. On February 20, SANA reported: “Entering its 32nd day, the Turkish aggression continues to claim more civilian casualties and causing material damage to properties. Medical sources at Afrin Hospital told SANA that so far, 175 civilians were killed and more than 450 civilians, most of them children and women, were injured due to the continued assault on civilians’ houses and infrastructure.”
Contrast the nonspecific and tame title of the January 26 UNICEF statement, “UNICEF statement on the escalating violence in Syria,” to the emotive language of February 20, riding on the coattails of corporate media hysteria around Ghouta: “The war on children in Syria: Reports of mass casualties among children in Eastern Ghouta and Damascus; … No words will do justice to the children killed; … We no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering and our outrage; … barbaric acts …”
The UN has yet to issue an updated statement of concern regarding the latest Turkish bombings of Afrin.
In UN humanitarian chief Lowcock’s February 22 address, he spoke of “the killing of civilians and the destruction of entire cities and neighborhoods.”
However, he didn’t mean the killing of hundreds (a lower estimate) or even thousands of Syrian civilians by the U.S.-led coalition, illegal in Syria — the latest being 12 civilians, “mostly women and children,” killed in residential neighborhoods in Hajin town in Deir Ezzor eastern countryside on February 21.
One day prior, Syrian media reported the deaths of “at least 16 civilians, including nine women,” in al-Bahra village, Deir Ezzor countryside, noting, “the death toll is likely to rise as a number of civilians were injured and some of them are in critical condition as a result of airstrikes…”
A UN press release on Lowcock’s statement cited him as saying: “You can still save lives in eastern Ghouta – and elsewhere in Syria. I urge you to do so.”
But this is precisely what Syrian officials have been attempting to do, with offers of amnesty, safe transport of out of Ghouta, and the provision of medical and food aid.
Recently, independent researcher Hadi Nasrallah tweeted (in a long thread on Ghouta): “Even After 7 years of failed negotiations with terrorists for the sake of civilians held in Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian government dropped flyers and maps on the terrorist-held city to give details for civilians on how to flee areas with high tensions and guaranteed them safety”
Al Masdar News reported: “…eight projectiles struck the Al-Wafideen camp site where the Syrian Army has set up an evacuation point for civilians attempting to escape militant-held areas of East Ghouta.”
As with Aleppo, a humanitarian corridor has been established to enable eastern Ghouta residents to leave the district. However, given that terrorists repeatedly shelled humanitarian corridors in Aleppo (including a corridor road I stood on in November 2016), holding civilians hostage, it is quite likely terrorists in eastern Ghouta will do the same.
Yet, in the end, the combination of humanitarian corridors and Syria’s offer of amnesty and reconciliation enabled the exit of terrorists and return of life in Aleppo. As of August 2017, over half a million displaced Syrians returned home, the vast majority internally-displaced.
In Madaya, al-Waer, Homs, and many other areas of Syria, the same deals as in Aleppo enabled the return of stability and life.
In addition to opening the humanitarian corridors, the Syrian army has dropped leaflets over eastern Ghouta informing civilians of designated safe exits for civilians to leave the district to safety in Damascus.
These are the types of actions the UN should be focused on and supporting, not repeating war propaganda that only confuses and prolongs the fight for peace.
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