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“The Unprecedented”


A Special Report Covering Incidents and Massacres Committed in Eastern Ghouta between February 18, 2018 and April 8, 2018

by wael.m
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“The Unprecedented”

Preface: The Eastern Ghouta region witnessed one of the worst and most violent military attacks led by Syrian regular forces with the direct backing and support from the Russian military aircraft in the air and foreign militias and auxiliary troops on the ground, during the period from February18,2018untilApril18,2018.
Cities and towns of Eastern Ghouta, which had been besieged for several years, were subjected to unprecedented bombardment during this 49-day campaign. Nothing was spared even the concentrations of civilians and their houses, basements, shelters and other medical and civilian facilities, which were actually targets following the systematic policy pursued by the pro-government forces during those military operations, according to investigations carried out by STJ researchers who were present in this hot-spot area during that period.

This military operation resulted in the kill of at least 2,000 civilians and the injury of thousands, also according to STJ researchers, who have crossed the victims ' information they got from several sources, including medical points, victims ' relatives, direct testimonies and the public open sources.

This campaign led to the pro-government forces’ full control over whole Eastern Ghouta, after signing a number of deals with the armed opposition factions there. The first signed deal was with Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya movement[1] in Harasta city, on March 21, 2018, which provided for the evacuation of Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya movement fighters along with their families, as well as all civilians who didn’t want to get back under al-Assad rule, towards northern Syria. This deal was followed by another one with The al-Rahman Legion[2] on March 23, 2018, which also provided for the evacuation of The al-Rahman Legion and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham/HTS[3] militants with their families, and other civilians to northern Syria, this deal covered the towns of (Irbin, Zamalka, Ein Tarma and Jobar), and the last evacuation deal was signed with the Army of Islam[4] on April 8, 2018. This deal provided for the release of all the abductees[5] held by the Army of Islam, in exchange for allowing the latter’s fighters along with their families and civilians unwilling to settle with the Regime to get out of Eastern Ghouta towards northern Syria.

STJ will conduct extensive and detailed investigations into these settlement agreements and the accompanying forced displacements against the inhabitants of the area. These investigations will be published successively and immediately upon completion.

According to STJ researchers[6], Syrian regular forces and their allies have not stopped shelling the cities and towns of Eastern Ghouta by various types of weapons throughout the campaign, to the point of following the scorched-earth policy so that they could advance militarily. To this aim they divided Eastern Ghouta into three main sectors: which are the Central Sector[7], the Harasta Sector[8] and the Douma Sector[9], so that they could be easily controlled afterwards. An STJ field researcher noted that death became usual in Eastern Ghouta during the campaign, that almost every day scores of people lose their lives, indicating that life equaled death at the time.

It is worth mentioning that The UN Security Council adopted Resolution No. (2401) amid a welcome from the United Nations, which called for a ceasefire throughout Syria for at least 30 consecutive days to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical evacuation services of the critically sick and wounded.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has described the situation in Syria as "bleak" in the wake of the UN Security Council resolution calling for 30-day ceasefire throughout the country.

Military operations in Eastern Ghouta paralleled with further military operations in northern Syria, where the Turkish forces backed with Syrian armed opposition factions launched a military

campaign against Afrin the Kurdish-majority Syrian city, on January 20, 2018, and led to the Turkish army and supporting forces’ control over whole Afrin.

 

You may read the full report (84 pages) and download it in PDF format by clicking here.

 


[1] Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya was formed on November 11, 2011 with approximately 25, 000 combatants. It is an Islamic military faction formed of integration of four Islamic factions: Kataeb Ahrar al-Sham, al-Fajr al-Islamiyya Movement, Jamaat al-Taliaa al-Islamiyya and al-Iman Fighting Brigades. Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya actives in many areas that are not held by Syrian government, especially in the provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama, and is headed by Hasan Sofan/Abo al-Barra, born in Lattakia 1979, the ex-prisoner who was sentenced for 12 years in Sednaya Military Prison but released late 2016 following a prisoner swap agreement.

[2] At the beginning of August 2012, formation of the Al-Baraa brigade, led by dissent captain "Abdel Nasser Shammeir", hails from Homs province, was announced.  At the end of the year 2013, it expanded, with the announcement of the formation of Failaq al-Rahman that included Syrian armed opposition brigades, some of them were Abu Musa Al-Ash'ari Brigade, Liwa Shuhada Al-Ghouta, Ahl al-Sham Brigades, al-Liwa al-Awal in Qaboun and Tishreen neighborhood, and Al-Adiyat Brigade in Western Ghouta. According to several sources, Failaq al-Rahman has about 9,000 fighters; it gains its influence from its controlled sites in the neighborhoods of the east of Damascus, in Jobar and Zamalka, and is considered the second largest opposition military faction in Ghouta after Army of Islam.

[3] On January 28, 2017, several Jihadi factions in northern Syria announced the merger under the name of "Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham/HTS" They were;  Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front), The Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, Liwa al-Haqq, Jabhat Ansar al-Din, Jaysh al-Sunna and Ansar al-Sham. However, The Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement declared its secession from HTS against the background of the recent clashes between the latter and Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya in northern Syria on 15 July 2017.

[4] in September 2011, "Zahran Aloush", the former prisoner in Sednaya Prison, announced the formation of the opposition Battalion of Islam that later became, in mid-2012, Liwa al-Islam. On September 29, 2013, the brigade merged with a number of other factions to announce the formation of the "Army of Islam" and later joined the Islamic Front, in the same year, including other Islamic brigades like al-Tawhid Brigade, Suqour al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham Islamiyya Movement, and Liwa al-Haqq, and Zahran was the commander. The army is now mainly active in the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus countryside, but is also located in most areas out of control of the Syrian government except areas under ISIS and the Syrian Democratic Forces/SDF.

[5] Detainees who have been arrested for being accused of supporting the Syrian regime.

[6] It should be noted that most of the witnesses who gave us statements preferred to use aliases for security reasons Some of them were interviewed by the STJ field researcher in Eastern Ghouta, and others outside it following their displacement to the northern Syria.

[7] The Central Sector includes several cities and town such as Irbin, Hamoryah, Kafr Batna, Saqba, Jisreen and Zamalka, and it was held by The al-Rahman Legion.

[8] Harasta Sector was held by Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya Movement.

[9] Douma Sector includes several cities and towns, mainly Douma, Mesraba and al-Shefonia, and it was held by The Army of Islam.

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