Humanity & Inclusion condemns the unending bombardment of besieged Eastern Ghouta
The extreme escalation of bombardment in the besieged area of Eastern Ghouta in the past 48 hours has caused more than 200 civilian deaths and extensive damage to infrastructure – particularly hospitals, clinics and shelters where civilians are taking refuge. 390,000 civilians are besieged under heavy shelling, airstrikes and barrel bomb attacks in the enclave of Eastern Ghouta, with dwindling water, food and medical supplies.
A physical rehabilitation centre from a partner organisation of Humanity and Inclusion was destroyed after two separate bombardments. The first was a barrel bomb on Tuesday, 20th February which partially destroyed the top floors. On Wednesday, 21st February a missile struck the centre, destroying what remained.
Families seeking safety in the centre’s basement two floors below ground level had to be dug out – all alive – from the rubble where they were trapped for hours. Services from the centre have been suspended.
In a separate incident an ambulance was hit, killing the doctor and nurse in the ambulance and injuring a child who was being transported to a medical facility.
A healthcare worker from a local Syrian organisation told Humanity and Inclusion, “Today, the systematic bombing campaign escalated once more. We are forced to suspend our work of caring for people who need physiotherapy after suffering injuries in Eastern Ghouta. The only exception is that the ambulance team continues to respond to emergency needs despite the continued bombing. I also hope that all of you will contribute to conveying the voice of the citizens of this region. We appeal to all of you to end the killing and stop this criminal machine of war.”
Up to 100 civilians – staff, their families and neighbours – were taking shelter in the rehabilitation centre as it was believed to be safer than staying in their own homes. Thanks to a quick evacuation to the basement from the centre’s upper floors, some people were injured but no one was killed when the barrel bomb landed. Owing to the intense bombardment, humanitarian workers from other areas of the enclave remain unable to access the centre for work, or for refuge, as the risk of being hit while en route is too high.
Thousands more remain trapped in their homes, unable to access adequate underground shelters or healthcare facilities. Humanitarian workers have to work in the middle of the night during lulls in bombardment in order to provide what little humanitarian aid they have after months of besiegement to civilians. Return fire from Eastern Ghouta towards Damascus city centre also resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians.
The severe surge in violence across Syria since January 2018 is some of the worst seen in years of conflict – particularly in Idlib, Afrin, and Eastern Ghouta. These are all densely populated areas and local humanitarian workers and health professionals report to HI that there are increasing needs amongst the civilian populations in these areas who are trapped with no safe areas to flee to.
Humanity and Inclusion joins the call to the UN Security Council by the UN and other humanitarian organisations – both Syrian and international – for a ceasefire throughout Syria and a lifting of the existing sieges in Syria, including Eastern Ghouta. HI also calls for sustained and increased humanitarian access throughout Syria including into besieged and hard to reach areas. Emergency medical evacuations need to be immediately allowed and conducted safely and regularly. Humanitarian actors working in Syria must be protected in line with International Humanitarian Law.
In September 2015, Humanity & Inclusion launched an international mobilising campaign to end attacks on civilians. To this end, the organisation has co-founded INEW (International Network on Explosive Weapons), a coalition of international and national organisations concerned by widespread harm on civilians from such weapons.
Since 2015, Humanity & Inclusion has been tirelessly advocating for states to take immediate action and develop a political instrument to reduce harm and increase the protection of civilians living through conflict, by stopping the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, and by providing a framework for assistance to victims including affected communities.