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Geopolitics

Syria: One Thing Europe Can Do To Stop The Slaughter In Ghouta

Refusing to fund reconstruction efforts until attacks stop could be a solution to combat violence against civilians in war torn Syrian cities such as Ghouta and Alleppo.

A Syrian woman and her daughter walk past a destroyed house in the rebel-held Eastern Al-Ghouta province.
A Syrian woman and her daughter walk past a destroyed house in the rebel-held Eastern Al-Ghouta province.
Dr. Ahmad Tarakji

East Ghouta is experiencing hell on earth. The European Union called last week for an immediate end to what it described as a "massacre" in the besieged Damascus suburbs, but violence is ongoing.

Hundreds of airstrikes, rockets and mortars have rained down nearly every day for the past two weeks in the densely populated area, where at least 390,000 civilians are living under siege without access to basic food and medical supplies. There have been at least 28 attacks on medical facilities and healthcare professionals. Medical staff at a Syrian American Medical Society-supported facility said doctors treated at least 29 people on Wednesday for symptoms of exposure to chlorine gas. At least 30,000 people inside Ghouta have been displaced, and an average of between 50 and 100 civilians have been killed every day.

As the death toll continues to rise, European governments should think twice about their plans to fund reconstruction in Syria and realize their current humanitarian promises are just empty words.

E.U. countries have long had conflicting positions on Syria. The U.K., France and Germany said they remained committed to supporting humanitarian needs throughout Syria, but would not fund any future rebuilding until the country is on the path of reconciliation, respecting human rights and democracy.

Others envision funding reconstruction now without those guarantees, as their voters are more concerned with issues like immigration, refugees and counter-terrorism. Consequently, they are willing to give in to the Syrian regime despite its attacks on civilians in Ghouta, despite its known history of violating human rights and the right of its citizens and despite knowing that the government will manipulate their funds to buy loyalty and advance its authoritarianism.

A large percentage of the Syrian people are living below the poverty line. Handing the financial resources to the current regime will only make Syrians more dependent on it as their only source of food and livelihood.

The Syrian regime has been able to manipulate the U.N.-Damascus operation to the point where U.N. teams admitted to having been blocked from providing food and medical supplies to Ghouta and other places for many years. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization said Syrian regime security removed or blocked 70 percent of the medical supplies from being transported in the convoy that arrived in Ghouta on Monday. This convoy delivered aid sufficient for less than 10 percent of the population.

Now is not the time to grant this brutal regime more funds. History, voters and the Syrian people will not overlook the E.U."s decision.

The Syrian Air Force targets medical facilities.

As president of SAMS, an organization that operates over 140 medical facilities inside Syria, including 16 in Ghouta, I communicate with doctors in the area almost hourly. Over the past years, we have offered to share the coordinates of our hospitals and a livestream from inside the facility with many UNSC members. We hoped one of these countries could protect our hospitals or at least establish an accountability process to investigate the deliberate targeting of these facilities. We only heard silence.

As a result of their inaction, the Syrian Air Force deliberately targets medical facilities. Ambulance drivers report being hunted by aerial drones that bomb them directly or track them until they arrive at hospitals, then bomb them. First responders are thus unable to evacuate patients in time, and some die from treatable injuries. Even if victims make it to the hospital, doctors might not be able to save them, either because it is too late or because four years of siege has left them without the necessary medical supplies.

Last week, I was told that an army general threatened Ghouta residents: "You won't find a rescuer. And if you do, you will be rescued with water like boiling oil. You'll be rescued with blood." I think he spoke the truth.

Where is the international community?

This is another Aleppo unfolding before the eyes of the world. SAMS once had extensive programming in Aleppo City as well, and there, too, we saw our hospitals bombed and medical workers besieged and hunted. Then and now, the eloquent condemnations of mass atrocities were uttered from a number of voices in the international community, without any concrete actions to back them up. Once the majority of hospitals were bombed out of service, more than 250,000 residents were displaced from Aleppo in a week.

I know from the Aleppo experience that words are not enough. The international community's empty statements show only lack of political will. Once again, I plead with the international community – on behalf of the humanitarian workers of Ghouta – to turn words into action by stopping the airstrikes, sanctioning the attackers and taking any reconstruction funds off the table until the war stops and civil society is empowered to implement the principles of peace and human rights.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Syria Deeply.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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