Al-Bab (Syria) (AFP) – Hundreds of miles from their homes in Syria’s wrecked Eastern Ghouta, displaced Syrians say Western air strikes Saturday in response to an alleged chemical attack there were too little, too late.
The United States, Britain and France targeted military and research sites in Syria after the purported toxic attack on Eastern Ghouta’s last rebel holdout of Douma a week earlier.
Medics and rescuers said the alleged chemical attack killed more than 40 people in Douma, weeks into a brutal regime air and ground assault to retake the wider region on the outskirts of Damascus from rebels.
“We’re so happy to see that someone felt for us,” said Nadia Sidawi, 46, one of thousands of displaced Douma residents now living in northern Syria after they were evacuated from the town.
But “the strikes are not enough,” said the mother-of-eight, sitting on a mattress outside a white tent in a camp for the displaced more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) from her home in Douma.
President Bashar al-Assad “killed us — our children, our women. He destroyed our homes,” said the housewife, whose hair was wrapped in a black scarf.
More than 1,700 civilians were killed in a Russia-backed regime assault on Eastern Ghouta since mid-February.
Since then, Assad’s forces have retaken almost the entire rebel bastion through the military operation and Moscow-brokered evacuation deals.
An agreement for the Jaish al-Islam rebels who once controlled Douma has seen thousands of people — rebels and civilians — bussed up to a rebel-held area of the northern province of Aleppo.
– ‘Nobody stopped them’ –
Jaish al-Islam fighter Saleh Ibrahim, 26, said he was not optimistic that Saturday’s air strikes would have any long-term impact on Syria’s seven-year war.
“If Western countries had really wanted to get rid of Assad, they would have done it seven years ago,” he said, at the camp for the displaced near the city of Al-Bab.
Syria’s conflict started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests and has since spiralled into a complex war involving world powers.
Nada, a 40-year-old nurse from Douma who did not give her second name, said the US-led air strikes were more than warranted but came far too late.
Before the regime launched heavy air strikes on Eastern Ghouta on February 18, people in the former opposition bastion had endured five years of regime siege and food shortages.
“Nobody stopped them from besieging us. Children died of malnutrition,” the nurse said.
“Everybody held meetings and negotiations and nothing came of anything,” said the mother-of-six, who said she has lost touch with some of her children since being evacuated from Ghouta.
Numerous rounds of UN-backed talks have failed to stem Syria’s conflict, which has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced more than half the country’s population.
Backed by Russia, regime forces have taken back large parts of Syria in the past few years. Fully retaking Eastern Ghouta would be a major achievement for Assad.
Abu Adnan al-Doumani, 42, said he was also disappointed in Western powers.
“The United States, France and the United Kingdom always said they were friends of the Syrian people,” said the unemployed father-of-six, who wore a long black beard.
“But they have proven to be out worst enemies as Assad is in fact their protege,” he said.
“They let him do what he wants, kill who he wants.”