Displacement, bombing as East Ghouta unravels


January 14, 2014

January 14, 2014

After more than a year of a bloody stalemate in the Damascus suburbs of East Ghouta, rebel groups led by the powerful Islamic Front made major advances in mid-December.

On December 18th, the Salafist alliance of seven groups announced it and a coalition including Free Syrian Army-affiliated battalions, had seized control of 40 kilometers of contested area, including the Adra al-Amalia district of the city of Adra.

Red crescent ambulance

The Syrian Red Crescent ambulances are grounded in Douma due to a lack of fuel. Courtesy of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Since then, Syrian government media has repeatedly reported clashes with “terrorist gangs” in the area, saying it has “destroyed nest of terror groups, seizing weapons and ammunitions” from Adra.

Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri spoke with Omar Hamzeh, the spokesman for the FSA’s Revolutionary Command Council in Outer Damascus, about the humanitarian fallout after rebel advances and the government’s continued control over the strategic road to Damascus International Airport.

Q: What are the latest military update in Eastern Ghouta in general and Adra specifically?

A: There has been huge displacement in Adra al-Amalia; it is estimated that thousands of people have left their homes and headed to Qalamoun, which is also facing bombardment by Assad’s forces.

[Government] artillery is targeting the cities of al-Zabadani, Yabroud, Malula, Telfita, the Rankos farms and the village of Kfier al-Zait in Wadi Barada. There is huge disruption in those areas. Regime warplanes have targeted the roads between Qalamoun and the Lebanese village of Arsal. Adra was targeted by barrel bombs as people were displaced, leading to destruction and many casualties.

Assad’s forces targeted the busy market in Maliha with mortar shells, resulting in four dead and 50 injured, mostly women and children.

Douma was been exposed to surface-to-surface missiles over 10 days [in December]. More than 10 missiles had fallen on the city, while there were four air force raids and more than 300 hundred mortar shells targeting it. More than 80 were killed, 200 injured and five buildings destroyed during these raids.

Q: Why did people leave Adra? What is happening there?

A: After Adra al-Amalia city was liberated from shabiha and forces loyal to Assad, the bombardment against civilians in the city began.

Q: Who liberated it? Is ISIS present there?

A: No, ISIS is not in the area. The working battalions there are: Islamic Front, Jond al-Malahem and the Islamic Union of Sham Soldiers.

Please note there is a formal statement from the operations room denying the regime’s accusations about terrorists in the area.

The statement in part reads:

“Because of the regime’s blockade against civilians, which has caused hunger and death among the people, not to mention daily bombardment against the civilians, faithful jihadists decided to break the blockade and end the agony of hunger. The reason  for the operation was to end the blockade that regime forces and their allies had imposed on food and medicine. We announce that as the operation’s only reason. We don ot use women and children as human shields, as the regime has announced via its media. The causalities happen only when regime targets the city.”

Q: Why did the Islamic Front rebels capture Adra? What is its strategic importance?

A: The above statement details the reason. Storehouses of flour, grains, medicine and babies’ milk are in Adra. 

Q: Why this cruel campaign against Douma? What is Douma’s importance for the government?

A: Douma’s rebels had defeated regime forces across a wide range on October 24, 2012.

Q: What is the status of the road to Damascus International Airport today?

A: The main road is controlled by the regime and has never been under rebel control. It was cut for a while due to clashes on the second and fourth bridges, which are both bit far from the airport. The airport is one of regime’s most strongly reinforced bases.

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