The East Ghouta area in Rural Damascus hosts an estimated population of 393,000, including a significant number of internally displaced person (IDPs)
Parts of East Ghouta have been classified as besieged by the UN since November 2013, with the entire enclave classified as besieged since November 2016. Despite the formalization of a de-escalation zone in East Ghouta in September 2017, East Ghouta has witnessed an intensification of military activity, particularly in the latter months of 2017 and into January 2018.
A significant escalation in hostilities occurred between the Government of Syria (GoS) and (NSAGs) from November, with frequent reports of civilian deaths from the effects of the use of explosive weapons in densely populated urban areas and destruction of civilian infrastructure throughout the reporting period. Between 1 January and 31 January, OHCHR documented at least 124 civilians killed in air-strikes and ground-based strikes, including 41 children.1 The number of civilians killed and injured in heavily populated areas indicates that some military operations are conducted with indiscriminate effects and possibly without regard for practices of civilian harm mitigation. Throughout the reporting period residential neighborhoods of Damascus city were also reportedly attacked from East Ghouta, with OHCHR documenting at least 11 civilians killed. On 26 January, a ceasefire agreement (excluding Ahrar Al Sham and HTS) to commence on 27 January was announced to allow for the entry of humanitarian convoys and to evacuate medical cases. However, the agreement failed to come into effect and hostilities subsequently resumed. During the first week of February, East Ghouta witnessed yet a further intensification of hostilities with air-strikes and ground-based strikes reported in several densely populated areas of East Ghouta (including Duma, Ain Tarma, Jobar, Kafr Batna, Harasta, Arbin Nashabiyeh, Hammourieh, Modira, Misraba, and Jisreen), with reports of mounting civilian casualties and adding an additional layer of explosive hazard contamination.
The UN has also received multiple reports, from a number of different sources, alleging the use of weaponised chlorine, with The Unified Medical Office reporting some 21 people facing severe breathing difficulties on 22 January. Further reports alleging the use of weaponised chlorine have been received during the beginning of February. The UN is not in a position to verify these reports.
Internal displacement continues to occur within the enclave, although there are no reports of outflows of displaced persons to neighbouring areas, where assistance and services would be available. Following the most recent escalation of hostilities in January, some 15,000 civilians were reported to have been displaced, mostly from locations in the western part of the enclave (Harasta, Arbin, Misraba, Modira and Al Marj), and are currently living in make-shift collective shelters and/or taking refuge in basements. Reports indicate that a number of the basements in Harasta are currently flooded and that there are public health risks due to poor sanitation.
Between the 26 and 28 December 2017, 29 emergency medical cases, accompanied by family members, were evacuated from East Ghouta by SARC and ICRC to Damascus for further treatment. Five out of the 29 medical cases evacuated returned to the enclave on 17 January, after receiving medical treatment in Damascus hospitals. Since then, no additional medical evacuations have taken place, despite Health actors in East Ghouta reporting over 700 patients who are facing life-threatening conditions and requiring evacuation. There have already been 22 civilian deaths among those waiting to be evacuated, as well as three deaths among those who have been evacuated.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.