United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described East Ghouta, in the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, as “hell on earth”. Images of the rebel-held and besieged enclave, target of the latest offensive by Syrian and Russian forces, have shocked the world’s conscience.
Close to 400,000 people are trapped in a small area, making it impossible to avoid civilian casualties. Over 500 people were killed in the first ten days of the offensive. The United Nations Security Council has called for a 30-day cease-fire to allow for civilians to be evacuated but the fighting has persisted, despite a daily so-called ‘humanitarian pause’ declared by Russia.
German MEP Gabi Zimmer has denounced the attacks on civilians and called for an immediate cease-fire:
“The Syrian army has bombed residential areas, including schools and hospitals, while rebel groups have attacked humanitarian corridors, blocking aid and medical access. The current situation is untenable, not only in East Ghouta but also in other regions of Syria. The fighting must stop, this is a humanitarian catastrophe.”
What started as an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Asad in January 2011, it quickly turned into a civil war. The Syrian conflict has become a magnet of foreign interference from regional and world powers. European governments are training and arming Syrian rebels and have bombed Syria as part of an anti-ISIL coalition. Human rights groups have said that human rights violations and war crimes have been committed by all sides in the conflict.
“There has been reports of use of chlorine gas in East Ghouta. There cannot be a more cruel way to murder people and a reckless violation of international law. We condemn the use of chemical weapons in the strongest terms,” Zimmer added.
The war in Syria has entered its seventh year, more than 400,000 Syrians have lost their lives and over a millions have been injured. Over 5 million Syrians are registered refugees, with the majority staying in camps in neighbouring countries. Six million Syrians are internally displaced persons.
Gabi Zimmer highlighted the hypocrisy of governments that while keen on intervening ignore the rights of the refugees of a conflict they have helped sustain:
“The rights of the Syrian people are not for states to play as part of their selfish national interests. The territorial integrity of Syria must be respected and we say no to foreign intervention.”
Zimmer recalled the ongoing offensive of the Turkish government in Afrin, a Kurdish-held enclave in the north of Syria:
“We appeal for an immediate end to the Turkish offensive in Afrin and its attacks on the Kurdish population. Likewise, we call on the Syrian government to end the siege of areas such as East Ghuta, Yarmouk, Four and Kefraya.”
Looking into the future, Zimmer agreed that there is no solution for the conflict through military means:
“The EU must impose an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict in Syria. EU countries must stop its arms supplies to the conflict and its interventionism. Those who think this conflict can be solved through war are not only totally wrong but they are also responsible for this catastrophe. What we need is a focus on protecting civilians, safe and legal ways for asylum, something which the EU-Turkey deal denies. Syria has become the moral question of hour time and the time to act is now,” the German MEP concluded.