EASTERN GHOUTA, Syria
One of the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century is now unfolding in Syria’s besieged Eastern Ghouta district, a suburb of Damascus.
Children in the 104-square-kilometer district have borne the brunt of a years-long siege and continued attacks by Syrian regime forces.
The following is a list of frequently asked questions regarding the ongoing calamity in Eastern Ghouta:
1.Where is Eastern Ghouta?
Eastern Ghouta is a suburb of the Syrian capital located roughly 10 kilometers east of central Damascus.
2. Who lives there?
The district is home to some 400,000 civilians, roughly half of whom are children under the age of 18.
3. Who is being killed?
Airstrikes and artillery barrages -- by both the Assad regime and the Russian military -- have resulted in numerous civilian deaths. Within the last three months alone, more than 700 civilians have been killed in Eastern Ghouta.
4. Does this death toll include civilian casualties?
Yes. Over the last three months, 109 women and 185 children have lost their lives in the regime-besieged district.
5. How does the siege affect daily life?
Eastern Ghouta has remained under a crippling regime siege for more than five years. In recent months, chronic food and medicine shortages have led to the death of numerous children, either from malnutrition or the lack of adequate medical care.
6. What kind of weapons are being used by the regime?
Syrian regime forces have used mortar shells, barrel bombs, cluster bombs, bunker-busting munitions and chemical weapons against the district’s civilian population.
7. How often has the regime used chemical weapons?
Since the conflict began in 2011, the regime has carried out 46 chemical attacks. On August 21, 2013, it carried out a sarin gas attack in Damascus that left more than 1,400 civilians dead. And within the last two months alone, it has used chlorine gas at least three times in the region.
Regime officials, for their part, claim that “terrorists” are using civilians as human shields.
8. Why is Eastern Ghouta strategically important?
The regime wants to crush all resistance -- especially resistance so close to the capital.
9. How has the UN reacted to the regime’s crimes?
UN Security Council member-states, meanwhile, have failed to take any concrete action, with the exception of occasional anodyne statements issued by mid-level UN officials.
10. Does the cease-fire agreement reached in Astana apply to Eastern Ghouta?
In May of last year, Turkey, Russia and Iran designated Eastern Ghouta as a “de-escalation zone” in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited. Nevertheless, Russia -- one of the truce’s three guarantor-states -- has failed to prevent the Assad regime from repeatedly violating the agreement’s terms.