Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageSyrians cower in basements as bombs pound enclave

By Hasan Mohammed with an AFP reporter in Damascus (AFP)     Feb 21, 2018 in World

For several days, residents of the Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave near Damascus have huddled, terrified, in basements and bomb shelters as regime air strikes pound their towns to rubble.

Just a few miles away, inhabitants of government-held capital Damascus, spared much of the devastation of Syria's seven-year war, stay off the streets for fear of retaliatory rebel bombardment.

Regime air strikes, rocket and artillery attacks have killed over 300 civilians including 70 children this week, leaving residents of besieged Eastern Ghouta fearing an imminent regime ground assault to crush rebel forces there.

"There is a real fear that the regime will enter," said Abu Mohammad Al-Afa, 39.

A Russian-made Syrian regime helicopter drops bombs on the rebel-held town of Arbin in the besieged ...
A Russian-made Syrian regime helicopter drops bombs on the rebel-held town of Arbin in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on February 20, 2018
Amer ALMOHIBANY, AFP

"We have no way out and no country will give us refuge. All we have now are these cellars."

He is one of dozens of people crowded into a single underground room.

"The fear is enormous, and the whole world is just watching us," Al-Afa said.

Once the breadbasket of Damascus, the region fell under rebel control in 2012 and has been trapped in a government siege for the past five years.

The enclave of some 400,000 inhabitants has suffered repeated rounds of regime bombardment, but this week's campaign has been among the most intense yet.

The Syrian regime and its Russian ally seem more determined than ever to smash the Islamist groups holding out there.

Residents fear an offensive similar to the battle of Aleppo in late 2016, during which several hundred civilians were killed and wounded as the regime ousted rebel groups.

- 'When will we die?' -

Amal al-Wuhaibi has taken refuge in a cemetery.

"Coming to the graveyard is like burying ourselves before we're dead," she said.

"What we're experiencing now is worse than regime forces coming in. It might be better if they come," she added.

"We're asking: when will we die?"

Smoke plumes rise following a reported regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Hammuriyeh  in th...
Smoke plumes rise following a reported regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Hammuriyeh, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus on February 20, 2018
ABDULMONAM EASSA, AFP

Despite the years of siege and violence, some in Eastern Ghouta are prepared to accept the regime's return, said Umm Mohammad, a teacher in the town of Douma who wore a black scarf and a hijab.

"Some people say 'I have no problem with the regime coming -- I just want my husband and my son to be safe, I want to live in safety'," she said.

But others want to fight to the bitter end, she said.

"They say: we've fought seven years to give up the land now? To hand over our children, adults, the elderly, for slaughter? No way!"

Since Sunday night, the regime has pounded the region with air strikes, artillery and missiles.

Syrians rescue a child after a reported regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Hammuriyeh in th...
Syrians rescue a child after a reported regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Hammuriyeh in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus on February 21, 2018
ABDULMONAM EASSA, AFP

The streets of towns and villages are empty, apart from ruined buildings and scattered rubble, as stray animals run amongst the smoke rising from bomb sites.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called for an immediate halt in fighting in the enclave, saying it had become like "hell on earth" for civilians.

"We don't dare go outside," said Khadija, 53, hiding in a basement in the town of Douma.

Shivering as she gathered several children around her in the darkened room, she said: "There are planes above us and missiles landing around us: where should we go with our children?"

- Fear in Damascus -

A few kilometres away in Damascus, which has not experienced anything like the scale of the destruction in Eastern Ghouta, residents nevertheless live in fear.

Dozens of rockets fired by rebels slam into the capital every day.

On Tuesday, 13 civilians died in rebel fire, forcing many Damascenes to stay at home and several schools to close.

The Old City, thought by many to be the oldest continuously-inhabited places in the world, is one of the hardest-hit districts.

The street of Bab Touma, where cafes and restaurants are usually crowded, has been deserted for several days.

A wounded Syrian boy waits for treatment a make-shift hospital in Kafr Batna following government bo...
A wounded Syrian boy waits for treatment a make-shift hospital in Kafr Batna following government bombing of the besieged Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus on February 21, 2018
Amer ALMOHIBANY, AFP

"We want the army to save us from this situation with any solution it deems appropriate," said resident Ibrahim as he examined damage caused by a rocket in the Bab Sharqi district.

"We are sick of the shells falling day and night," he added. "We don't dare send our children to school any more. Fear rules us."

As rumours spread that regime forces are amassing for an imminent regime offensive into Ghouta, several Damascus residents told AFP they were planning to leave temporarily.

Karim said he would head to his family home on the Syrian coast "until calm returns."

More about Syria, Conflict, Ghouta
More news from
Latest News
Top News