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Trapped in Eastern Ghouta: How Both Sides Stop People from Escaping
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Syrian rebels and government forces are both preventing civilians fleeing the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, according to a teacher who has been trying to get his family out.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Ghafour, 43, a teacher of Arabic, spoke of their abortive attempt to escape.

“I live in Douma [in the north of Eastern Ghouta] and have three children who are all under 15,” he says. “I tried to send my family out, but the opposition militants prevent all families leaving.” He adds that even the extensive networks of independent smugglers, who used to bring goods secretly into Eastern Ghouta and sometimes smuggle people out, would not help him because they work with the rebel movements in control of Eastern Ghouta.

“I tried but in vain,” he recalls, describing how one of the rebel local commanders, probably from the Army of Islam that controls this part of the besieged enclave, caught Ghafour and his family last Thursday when they were trying to move from Douma to another opposition held-district further west called Harasta. “He shouted at me and said, ‘You should stay here and support our fight against the regime, and you should not even send your wife and children away. If we send our families out, our morale will go down and we will lose.”’

Ghafour returned home with his family and says that they expect to be killed at any moment. Even so, he is sympathetic to the rebels who are stopping him and his family escaping. “I am not fighting myself, but I go and see the fighters nearby and offer help in case it is needed,” he says. He is fearful of government reprisals, saying that it is dangerous even to use the Syriatel mobile network because “calls are recorded by the regime”. “A friend of mine was arrested last month because of some calls he made in Douma before moving from there to regime-held areas,” he adds.

He says that it has now become impossible to cross from Harasta or Douma to government-held territory, as had previously been possible, because “the regime will not let them go to its areas”. As a result, he and his family remain in their house, terrified and confused about what will happen next after a week of continual shelling and bombing. “I lost two friends of mine in Shafouniya yesterday in an air strike,” he says.

Ghafour was speaking just as the UN Security Council passed its resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which has led to some easing of the bombing and shelling that has already killed 500 people in Eastern Ghouta over the last week. This was also before allegations that Syrian government forces had been using chlorine gas.

What does emerge is that the armed opposition groups in Eastern Ghouta as well as the government have been stopping people leaving. This is confirmed by a UN-backed report called Reach, which says: “Women of all ages, and children, reportedly continued to be forbidden by local armed groups from leaving the area for security reasons.” This has been the pattern in all the many sieges in Syria conducted by all sides who do not want their own enclaves depopulated and wish to retain as much of the civilian population as possible as human shields.

But Ghafour is right in thinking that he and his family would have a great deal to be frightened of even if they did manage to make their way to government lines. Men of military age, in particular, are likely to be detained because they are suspected of being rebel fighters or because they are liable to be conscripted into the Syrian army. Detention might be immediate or happen later at any one of the thousands of government checkpoints. These often act like border crossings and ill-paid soldiers and police will look for a bribe, especially from those who come originally from rebel-held areas.

But there is another reason why people fleeing Eastern Ghouta might be in danger in government held-Damascus. Seven years of civil war has ensured that Syrians on different sides, many of whom will have lost relatives in the violence, regard each other with undiluted hatred. In Damascus, the shellfire and bombing are largely by the government into rebel areas, but there is also outgoing fire from Eastern Ghouta, mostly from mortars, into government-controlled districts.

Rania, 22, a fourth-year student of English literature at Damascus University, explained to The Independent what had happened in her area and what was the local reaction to it. She lives in the Dwel’a neighbourhood, which is a government-held area but located between two opposition-controlled zones, Ayn Tarma to the north and Mukhayyam Al Yarmouk to the south.

“Our neighbourhood has been shelled once or twice a week by opposition militants since last year, but since last week the shelling has intensified and is happening every day,” she says. She and her friends have been stranded in their houses for a week and cannot even go out to buy food. The army, and local young men willing to take the risk, have been supplying them.

“People are being killed every day in our neighbourhood,” Rania says. “Yesterday, a shell hit the balcony of our neighbour’s house and killed his daughter who was a university student.”

There are similar incidents every day. One house near to Rania’s was hit by a rocket and a mother and her three-year-old child were killed.

ORDER IT NOW

As a result of this, Rania says that people in her district speak about “what is happening in Ghouta in a very negative way”. This means they are all in favour of the use of maximum force against it. She says that “a shopkeeper in our locality lost his son in Ghouta. He was serving in the Syrian army and, while he and his unit were trying to break into Eastern Ghouta, he was killed along with several others soldiers. The shopkeeper and many who lost their sons say that even the children of Ghouta should be killed because ‘if they grow up, they will be terrorists as well’.”

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Syria 
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  1. According to the Russian Center of Reconciliation there is a truce in force from 9.00am to 2pm every day. Leaflets showing the humanitarian exit corridors and how to approach the troops at the end of them have been dropped. Considerable efforts have been made by the Syrian authorities to minimise bloodshed. This information and documentary evidence is freely available on Twitter from people on the ground in Syria. It is disingenuous of you to ignore it. The MSM, including your so called ‘independent’ are only telling half the story and presenting propaganda filmed by the White Helmets, a propaganda wing of Al Nusra (there is conclusive proof of that because individuals have been invented and some of the editing and acting is laughable). I fully appreciate that you are not tell the truth, but be aware people in your positions have responsibilities and effectively blood on their hands. Throughout their involvement in the Syrian proxy war the Russians have behave remarkably well and provided vast amounts of aid to starving Syrians. You could mention that, except for the pathetic posturing of our politicians.

    Read More
    • Replies: @peterAUS

    It is disingenuous of you to ignore it. The MSM, including your so called ‘independent’ are only telling half the story and presenting propaganda filmed by the White Helmets, a propaganda wing of Al Nusra (there is conclusive proof of that because individuals have been invented and some of the editing and acting is laughable). I fully appreciate that you are not tell the truth....
     
    Agree.
    The article is piece of shit.
    It's actually crude anti-Assad propaganda. Uncomfortably crude. Written by an assistant, from a template, probably.

    As for this

    ....be aware people in your positions have responsibilities and effectively blood on their hands.
     
    wait...you believe that the author and his ilk have an ounce of integrity?
    Just don't.
    When I look at them I visualize worms. The type one sees when lifts a rock and sees what's slithering in that dark patch of soil.
    , @Lot
    Unsubtle Putin-troll is unsubtle. Tone it down a bit comrade!
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  2. The tragedy unfolding in Syria would never have happened had not Obama’s Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, aided and abetted by the innumerable Zionists/neocons infesting our government, foundations, MSM, etc., encouraged and supported an uprising against the ruling Ba’ath party in Syria. After surreptitiously encouraging murderous, crimes-against-humanity levels of violence in the Middle East, Israel and its cats paw, the USA, have sown disorder and chaos throughout much of the region. The sole plausible reason for this is to create a wasteland upon which Israel can wreak its vile will. Now the only states standing between the inhabitants of the Middle East and a ruthless, racist domination by Israel are a tottering Syria and Iran. Israel’s (and therefor the Zionist infested US government’s) obvious immediate goal is bringing further death and chaos to Syria and start the process in Syria. If there is a God and he is just, there will be a heavy price to pay for this evil.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Johann Ricke

    The tragedy unfolding in Syria would never have happened had not Obama’s Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, aided and abetted by the innumerable Zionists/neocons infesting our government, foundations, MSM, etc., encouraged and supported an uprising against the ruling Ba’ath party in Syria.
     
    Alawites are 10% of the population in a sea of 70% Sunni Arabs. Their rebellion, a more effectual version of the 80's era revolt in Hama, had nothing to do with either Clinton or Obama. Assad fed the Islamists with money and weapons to fight American troops in Iraq. Upon their return to Syria, they used their skills against the government that had used them as cannon fodder against Uncle Sam. Assad was probably hoping that his Sunni Arab radicals would mostly be killed in the process of pushing Uncle Sam out of Iraq. Unfortunately for him, enough of them survived to mount a super-sized version of the Hama revolt.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  3. peterAUS says:
    @eric bloodaxe
    According to the Russian Center of Reconciliation there is a truce in force from 9.00am to 2pm every day. Leaflets showing the humanitarian exit corridors and how to approach the troops at the end of them have been dropped. Considerable efforts have been made by the Syrian authorities to minimise bloodshed. This information and documentary evidence is freely available on Twitter from people on the ground in Syria. It is disingenuous of you to ignore it. The MSM, including your so called 'independent' are only telling half the story and presenting propaganda filmed by the White Helmets, a propaganda wing of Al Nusra (there is conclusive proof of that because individuals have been invented and some of the editing and acting is laughable). I fully appreciate that you are not tell the truth, but be aware people in your positions have responsibilities and effectively blood on their hands. Throughout their involvement in the Syrian proxy war the Russians have behave remarkably well and provided vast amounts of aid to starving Syrians. You could mention that, except for the pathetic posturing of our politicians.

    It is disingenuous of you to ignore it. The MSM, including your so called ‘independent’ are only telling half the story and presenting propaganda filmed by the White Helmets, a propaganda wing of Al Nusra (there is conclusive proof of that because individuals have been invented and some of the editing and acting is laughable). I fully appreciate that you are not tell the truth….

    Agree.
    The article is piece of shit.
    It’s actually crude anti-Assad propaganda. Uncomfortably crude. Written by an assistant, from a template, probably.

    As for this

    ….be aware people in your positions have responsibilities and effectively blood on their hands.

    wait…you believe that the author and his ilk have an ounce of integrity?
    Just don’t.
    When I look at them I visualize worms. The type one sees when lifts a rock and sees what’s slithering in that dark patch of soil.

    Read More
    • Replies: @FB
    Good comment Peter...

    Cockburn is a disgrace...if one were to fact-check his huge stack of BS 'reporting' from the Middle East one could fill an encyclopedia with the obfuscations...omissions...and outright lies...

    He is just a faithful servant of the corporate media...who doesn't have the balls to be his own man...

    A pathetic piece of crap...
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  4. @Jus' Sayin'...
    The tragedy unfolding in Syria would never have happened had not Obama's Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, aided and abetted by the innumerable Zionists/neocons infesting our government, foundations, MSM, etc., encouraged and supported an uprising against the ruling Ba'ath party in Syria. After surreptitiously encouraging murderous, crimes-against-humanity levels of violence in the Middle East, Israel and its cats paw, the USA, have sown disorder and chaos throughout much of the region. The sole plausible reason for this is to create a wasteland upon which Israel can wreak its vile will. Now the only states standing between the inhabitants of the Middle East and a ruthless, racist domination by Israel are a tottering Syria and Iran. Israel's (and therefor the Zionist infested US government's) obvious immediate goal is bringing further death and chaos to Syria and start the process in Syria. If there is a God and he is just, there will be a heavy price to pay for this evil.

    The tragedy unfolding in Syria would never have happened had not Obama’s Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, aided and abetted by the innumerable Zionists/neocons infesting our government, foundations, MSM, etc., encouraged and supported an uprising against the ruling Ba’ath party in Syria.

    Alawites are 10% of the population in a sea of 70% Sunni Arabs. Their rebellion, a more effectual version of the 80′s era revolt in Hama, had nothing to do with either Clinton or Obama. Assad fed the Islamists with money and weapons to fight American troops in Iraq. Upon their return to Syria, they used their skills against the government that had used them as cannon fodder against Uncle Sam. Assad was probably hoping that his Sunni Arab radicals would mostly be killed in the process of pushing Uncle Sam out of Iraq. Unfortunately for him, enough of them survived to mount a super-sized version of the Hama revolt.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Lot
    That's all correct. I support Assad, but the pro-Russian fanatics are really something else.

    Alawites are 10% of the population in a sea of 70% Sunni Arabs.
     
    That a corrupt and repressive government run by a 10% minority is vulnerable to rebellion by the majority will never be accepted by the numbskulls who think the USA's 4% Jewish population has complete control, or even more absurdly the UK's 1% and Sweden's 0.1%.
    , @FB

    '...Assad fed the Islamists with money and weapons to fight American troops in Iraq...'
     
    That's pure bullshit...

    I'd like to see you back up that hot gas with an actual piece of evidence...

    We recall that Syria was in fact cooperating with the US in their 'extraordinary rendition' program...ie US was shipping Islamist terror suspects to Syria for torture by the Syrian secret police...

    An innocent Canadian engineer Maher Arar was detained by US authorities during a stopover at JFK airport...on his way home to Toronto...he was sent to Syria and spent a year there...all at the behest of the US...

    The Canadian government held a full inquiry that exonerated Arar...and that the Canadian government had not been complicit in the US illegal rendition...

    Why would US cooperate with Syria and outsource its torture to Syria if that country was arming insurgents fighting the US in Iraq...?

    Your stupidity is laughable...
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  5. I have followed P, Cockburn through the Iraq/Afganistan Wars and don’t dismiss him easily. I’m sure there is much hatred between Syrians due to the nature of the conflict. He hasen’t covered much from Israel recently that I have seen, and I understand much dissent is taking place there.
    Perhaps, if he is allowed, it is time to do some reporting from there.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  6. H-G. W. says:

    As for the pseudo remote-controlled ”revolutions” launched from McGill university, Canada state-owned ”MSM” (1.5 billion-year, taxpayer money) is in full-propaganda mode against Assad, Russian, Iran, and so on.

    The BBC’s cousin DELETES posts on Facebook, whenever taxpayers refuse to support their rebels (well armed with weapons paid with money stolen from the taxpayer) in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.

    Now the monsters delete posts and refuse any comment contradicting their BS propaganda.

    http://www.cbc.ca

    Same thing for the Desmarais-Powercorporation and friends who are preparing the G7 to determine how they will ”deal” with Iran.

    http://www.lapresse.ca

    They REFUSED posts, comments, and articles on the destruction of Libya.

    They REFUSED posts, comments, and articles on the massacres in Egypt.

    They REFUSED posts, comments, and articles on the massacres in Syria.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  7. Lot says:
    @eric bloodaxe
    According to the Russian Center of Reconciliation there is a truce in force from 9.00am to 2pm every day. Leaflets showing the humanitarian exit corridors and how to approach the troops at the end of them have been dropped. Considerable efforts have been made by the Syrian authorities to minimise bloodshed. This information and documentary evidence is freely available on Twitter from people on the ground in Syria. It is disingenuous of you to ignore it. The MSM, including your so called 'independent' are only telling half the story and presenting propaganda filmed by the White Helmets, a propaganda wing of Al Nusra (there is conclusive proof of that because individuals have been invented and some of the editing and acting is laughable). I fully appreciate that you are not tell the truth, but be aware people in your positions have responsibilities and effectively blood on their hands. Throughout their involvement in the Syrian proxy war the Russians have behave remarkably well and provided vast amounts of aid to starving Syrians. You could mention that, except for the pathetic posturing of our politicians.

    Unsubtle Putin-troll is unsubtle. Tone it down a bit comrade!

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  8. Lot says:
    @Johann Ricke

    The tragedy unfolding in Syria would never have happened had not Obama’s Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, aided and abetted by the innumerable Zionists/neocons infesting our government, foundations, MSM, etc., encouraged and supported an uprising against the ruling Ba’ath party in Syria.
     
    Alawites are 10% of the population in a sea of 70% Sunni Arabs. Their rebellion, a more effectual version of the 80's era revolt in Hama, had nothing to do with either Clinton or Obama. Assad fed the Islamists with money and weapons to fight American troops in Iraq. Upon their return to Syria, they used their skills against the government that had used them as cannon fodder against Uncle Sam. Assad was probably hoping that his Sunni Arab radicals would mostly be killed in the process of pushing Uncle Sam out of Iraq. Unfortunately for him, enough of them survived to mount a super-sized version of the Hama revolt.

    That’s all correct. I support Assad, but the pro-Russian fanatics are really something else.

    Alawites are 10% of the population in a sea of 70% Sunni Arabs.

    That a corrupt and repressive government run by a 10% minority is vulnerable to rebellion by the majority will never be accepted by the numbskulls who think the USA’s 4% Jewish population has complete control, or even more absurdly the UK’s 1% and Sweden’s 0.1%.

    Read More
    • Troll: FB
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  9. FB says:
    @Johann Ricke

    The tragedy unfolding in Syria would never have happened had not Obama’s Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, aided and abetted by the innumerable Zionists/neocons infesting our government, foundations, MSM, etc., encouraged and supported an uprising against the ruling Ba’ath party in Syria.
     
    Alawites are 10% of the population in a sea of 70% Sunni Arabs. Their rebellion, a more effectual version of the 80's era revolt in Hama, had nothing to do with either Clinton or Obama. Assad fed the Islamists with money and weapons to fight American troops in Iraq. Upon their return to Syria, they used their skills against the government that had used them as cannon fodder against Uncle Sam. Assad was probably hoping that his Sunni Arab radicals would mostly be killed in the process of pushing Uncle Sam out of Iraq. Unfortunately for him, enough of them survived to mount a super-sized version of the Hama revolt.

    ‘…Assad fed the Islamists with money and weapons to fight American troops in Iraq…’

    That’s pure bullshit…

    I’d like to see you back up that hot gas with an actual piece of evidence…

    We recall that Syria was in fact cooperating with the US in their ‘extraordinary rendition’ program…ie US was shipping Islamist terror suspects to Syria for torture by the Syrian secret police…

    An innocent Canadian engineer Maher Arar was detained by US authorities during a stopover at JFK airport…on his way home to Toronto…he was sent to Syria and spent a year there…all at the behest of the US…

    The Canadian government held a full inquiry that exonerated Arar…and that the Canadian government had not been complicit in the US illegal rendition…

    Why would US cooperate with Syria and outsource its torture to Syria if that country was arming insurgents fighting the US in Iraq…?

    Your stupidity is laughable…

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  10. FB says:
    @peterAUS

    It is disingenuous of you to ignore it. The MSM, including your so called ‘independent’ are only telling half the story and presenting propaganda filmed by the White Helmets, a propaganda wing of Al Nusra (there is conclusive proof of that because individuals have been invented and some of the editing and acting is laughable). I fully appreciate that you are not tell the truth....
     
    Agree.
    The article is piece of shit.
    It's actually crude anti-Assad propaganda. Uncomfortably crude. Written by an assistant, from a template, probably.

    As for this

    ....be aware people in your positions have responsibilities and effectively blood on their hands.
     
    wait...you believe that the author and his ilk have an ounce of integrity?
    Just don't.
    When I look at them I visualize worms. The type one sees when lifts a rock and sees what's slithering in that dark patch of soil.

    Good comment Peter…

    Cockburn is a disgrace…if one were to fact-check his huge stack of BS ‘reporting’ from the Middle East one could fill an encyclopedia with the obfuscations…omissions…and outright lies…

    He is just a faithful servant of the corporate media…who doesn’t have the balls to be his own man…

    A pathetic piece of crap…

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  11. Bianca says:

    This is a spin, taking advantage of people who are kept as hostages, and are afraid to be called pro”regime”.

    Evacuation routes are established, and are funcyioning from 9 am to 2 pm. During that time, cease fire is in effect,but the terorists are not letting them pass. In spite if this, many have managed to flee. There are no words to describe the disguisting efforts to save the thugs, who sfter they have been given opportunity through Atana, and accepted reconciliation plan, used it to rearm and start hitting civilians again. And more disguist one feels towards thise arming them, supplying with money, computers and telecom. Those fools performing theater called White Helmets, funded by British intelligence outfit, and performing.fake rescue operations, for as long as cameras are rolling. But they were dilligent cleaning up the bodies left on the ground after beheading orgies. Yet, our Nikki has never met a terrorist she did not like. She was not too gappy with the demise of ISIS, as then — who will be leff to continue mayhem in Syria. Heavens forbid a peace can break out. No wonder a teacher knows who he is talking to — and will tell what he thinks West wantsto here. Both are bad — presumably. And then why try to excape to Government controlled area? Why bother?

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  12. Cockburn provides no evidence whatsoever that Syrian authorities are preventing people from leaving E. Ghouta, not even hearsay. Yes, he provides believable hearsay that civilians in Damascus are furious with rebel supporters from Ghouta and that the lives of refugees could become tense, but he gives no evidence of his headline or first sentence, “Syrian rebels and government forces are both preventing civilians fleeing the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta.” The teacher himself specifies that he was able to get nowhere near government forces, as the rebels turned him back.

    I’d also like to know how Cockburn managed to do this interview. Did he actually travel to E. Ghouta and talk to the man personally? Does he have a Syrian visa? Did government and rebel forces cooperate in allowing him through? The man is afraid to use his own cell phone for fear it is monitored. So how did they communicate? Was the man allowed to use the cell phone of some other rebel supporter? If so, was he monitored in what he said?

    The last little thimble of respect I had for Patrick Cockburn is gone. He is a disgrace to an illustrious, courageous family.

    Read More
    • Replies: @aleksandar
    Cockburn disgrace, far below zero.
    " But Ghafour is right in thinking that he and his family would have a great deal to be frightened of even if they did manage to make their way to government lines."
    75% of civilans liberated from East Aleppo went to syrian gouvernement held areas.
    The "fear factor" is just BS.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  13. @anti_republocrat
    Cockburn provides no evidence whatsoever that Syrian authorities are preventing people from leaving E. Ghouta, not even hearsay. Yes, he provides believable hearsay that civilians in Damascus are furious with rebel supporters from Ghouta and that the lives of refugees could become tense, but he gives no evidence of his headline or first sentence, "Syrian rebels and government forces are both preventing civilians fleeing the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta." The teacher himself specifies that he was able to get nowhere near government forces, as the rebels turned him back.

    I'd also like to know how Cockburn managed to do this interview. Did he actually travel to E. Ghouta and talk to the man personally? Does he have a Syrian visa? Did government and rebel forces cooperate in allowing him through? The man is afraid to use his own cell phone for fear it is monitored. So how did they communicate? Was the man allowed to use the cell phone of some other rebel supporter? If so, was he monitored in what he said?

    The last little thimble of respect I had for Patrick Cockburn is gone. He is a disgrace to an illustrious, courageous family.

    Cockburn disgrace, far below zero.
    ” But Ghafour is right in thinking that he and his family would have a great deal to be frightened of even if they did manage to make their way to government lines.”
    75% of civilans liberated from East Aleppo went to syrian gouvernement held areas.
    The “fear factor” is just BS.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
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