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The Battle for Eastern Ghouta
Darko Lazar

Last month, militant groups operating in Syria's Eastern Ghouta refused an invitation to the Russian-sponsored peace conference in the resort town of Sochi.

Syria map

That decision demonstrated their unwillingness to engage in any form of dialogue with the government in Damascus, and rendered the de-escalation zone in the area, which ensures a temporary cessation of hostilities, fairly futile.

Of course, the decision to skip Sochi, much like their now entirely ineffectual - although still bloody - war against the Syrian army, is not the result of autonomous decision-making within militant ranks. It is the product of western and Arab foreign policy agendas that appear determined to prolong the Syrian conflict and the suffering of its people.

In line with those foreign objectives, armed groups abandoned talks with Damascus, opting instead to pursue a fantasy about a military victory in Syria.

The result has been a spike in militant attacks across Syria's four de-escalation zones situated in Idlib province, in the Rastan and Talbiseh enclave, in northern Homs province, in parts of Deraa and Quneitra provinces, and in Eastern Ghouta in the northern Damascus countryside.

From the shooting-down of a Russian fighter jet in Idlib, to clashes along the fringes of the zones in Homs, Deraa and, of course, Ghouta, the upsurge in violence has led to scores of civilian casualties.

In Damascus alone, over 30 people have been killed and hundreds injured as a result of mortar fire coming from Eastern Ghouta in the last two weeks.

And earlier this week, a total of 114 projectiles fired on the Syrian capital in a single day killed 13 people and wounded 77 others.

These developments point to a renewed and concerted effort to undermine the Syrian government and its allies, at a time when its military formations have successfully eliminated the Daesh [Arabic acronym for "ISIS" / "ISIL'] terror group and its affiliates.

But more importantly, the campaign is designed to destroy the Russian-Iranian-Turkish co-sponsored peace negotiations, which aim to lay the groundwork for serious political dialogue in the war-torn country.

The dangerous escalations have prompted Damascus to launch a renewed anti-terrorist operation in Eastern Ghouta, in hope of clearing it from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as al-Nusra Front), Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham and Failaq al-Rahman.

According to a researcher with the International Crisis Group, Sam Heller, the campaign is aimed at "resolving the issue of Eastern Ghouta permanently, either through a purely military victory or through a negotiated solution under enormous military pressure."

Aleppo 2.0

There are many parallels that can be drawn between the present-day battle for Eastern Ghouta and operations conducted by the Syrian military and its allies to recapture Eastern Aleppo a little over a year ago.

In both cases, the densely populated urban areas were occupied by terrorist factions that used the civilian population as virtual hostages and human shields. And also in both cases, the Syrians and their allies acted with a great deal of restraint in the hope of minimizing casualties.

In spite of the facts on the ground, Damascus was bombarded by calls for an immediate ceasefire, allegations of ‘war crimes', and reports of chemical weapons being used.

But the liberation of Aleppo unveiled a completely different reality. There were no atrocities or reprisals carried out against the local population by the Syrian forces, and the liberated civilians are not exactly yearning for the return of the ‘rebels' that the west holds in such high regard.

Tens of thousands quickly returned to their homes, where the state provides security, as well as essential communal and social services.

Of course, none of this will ever be circulated in the mainstream media. There will be no images or stories about residents in Aleppo returning to normal life, resurrecting schools, markets, mosques and churches.

In much the same way, there is no global attention directed at the thousands of well-trained and heavily armed militants in Eastern Ghouta, who perpetrate near-daily atrocities against both the civilians in the areas under their control and beyond.

Instead, the spotlight is placed squarely on Damascus and its allies, whose officials are made to look like they enjoy bombing hospitals for the fun of it.

"I am afraid that a lot of this human cry coming from the western media is really designed to save those terrorist forces," said former US diplomat Jim Jatras.

"We know there are civilians suffering there. Efforts should be made to try to alleviate that just like we saw in Aleppo when Syrian and Russian forces liberated that city. But the same suffering happens when US forces push Daesh out of Mosul or out of Raqqa and we don't hear about it so much in the mainstream media," Jatras added.

In sharp contrast to the coverage of Eastern Ghouta and Aleppo, condemnation of America's scorched earth policy in both Iraq and Syria, which has reduced countless cities to ghost towns, is virtually nonexistent.

That's because civilian casualties are only relevant when they can be used as pawns for western geostrategic objectives. And in the case of Eastern Ghouta, the west is hoping to not only prolong the Syrian conflict by shielding the militants, but also extract concessions from the Damascus government.

Source: Al-Ahed News

24-02-2018 | 11:08

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