Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s reportedly launched a bombing campaign that deliberately targeted seven hospitals and killed over a hundred people, including at least 20 children, outside of Damascus on Monday and Tuesday.
“We are standing before the massacre of the 21st century. If the massacre of the 1990s was Srebrenica, and the massacres of the 1980s were Halabja and Sabra and Shatila, then eastern Ghouta is the massacre of this century right now,” said a doctor in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus quoted by the UK Guardian.
The doctor went on to describe saving a child who was suffocating from all of the bombing debris he had inhaled, saying, “A wounded child breathing with lungs of sand. You get a child, a year old, that they saved from the rubble and is breathing sand, and you don’t know who he is.“
“All these humanitarian and rights organizations, all that is nonsense. So is terrorism. What is a greater terrorism than killing civilians with all sorts of weapons? Is this a war? It’s not a war. It’s called a massacre,” the doctor argued.
On Tuesday, UNICEF issued a blank statement on Assad’s campaign in Eastern Ghouta—a statement that consisted of ten empty lines surrounded by quotation marks.
“No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones,” the U.N. children’s fund explained. “UNICEF is issuing this blank statement. We no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering and our outrage. Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?”
“I am deeply alarmed by the extreme escalation in hostilities in east Ghouta,” U.N. humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The humanitarian situation of civilians in east Ghouta is spiraling out of control,” Moumtzis warned. “We continue to call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to close to 3 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach locations across Syria, including east Ghouta, and urge all parties to the conflict to strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to protect civilians from harm.”
According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Monday was the deadliest day for Eastern Ghouta in three years, as the neighborhood was subjected to artillery shelling, airstrikes, and Assad’s famously indiscriminate “barrel bombs.” The estimate of deaths over the past three months now exceeds 700.
The UK Daily Mail published photographs of dead children wrapped in bloody sheets and piled up in a makeshift morgue. Video footage taken after the attacks shows paramedics and civilians frantically digging through the debris after nightfall on Monday in search of survivors.
As the Daily Mail observes, there most definitely are armed rebels mixed in with the civilian population, and they retaliated for the government attacks by shelling Damascus on Tuesday. Syrian state media reported one death and six injuries from the rebel strikes. As one Damascus resident put it, “Shells are falling like rain.”
NBC News reports that many of the estimated 400,000 people living in Eastern Ghouta have moved underground to find safety from the airstrikes and artillery barrages. This may provide a measure of shelter from the bombs, but it leaves the civilians unable to access supplies or medical resources.
One survivor quoted by NBC News claimed that Russian aircraft are participating in the bombing campaign along with Syrian government planes and helicopters.
Hundreds of injured civilians, including women and children, have poured into what medical facilities are still available. AFP reports a heartbreaking exchange between a grieving father and paramedics:
Farah was killed in the town of Masraba and her body brought to Douma by paramedics, who have been completely overwhelmed since the regime intensified its strikes two weeks ago.
“I have five other children I know nothing about, all five of them and their mother,” he sobbed, resting his hand on the black shroud his daughter was wrapped in.
“Is there a fridge to put her in?”, he asked.
A volunteer for the civil defense, an organization known as the White Helmets, awkwardly looked for something to tell the bereaved father and eventually said, “May God reward you.”
Many observers believe the Assad regime is preparing for a major ground offensive to eliminate the rebel presence in Eastern Ghouta. The Syrian opposition claims it has been negotiating with the Russians to de-escalate the situation, but instead, things are getting “more complicated and more catastrophic without any response until this moment from the international community,” as one representative put it.