Assad-Backed Syrian Forces Split Rebel-Held Ghouta Into 3

Mar 12, 2018
Originally published on March 12, 2018 5:40 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

We're going to go now to Syria. The suburb of eastern Ghouta has been a thorn in the side of the Syrian regime for most of the civil war. Eastern Ghouta is held by rebels. The government and its allies have pounded that area with airstrikes in recent weeks. Entire buildings have been flattened. And numbers are hard to find, but it's believed that more than a thousand civilians have died since the start of the offensive. Now, ignoring the United Nations, tanks and troops have advanced into the enclave. NPR's Ruth Sherlock reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEAPONS FIRING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Syrian army tanks roll into eastern Ghouta. Video footage posted online shows the ground offensive that's shrinking this opposition-held piece of land.

(SOUNDBITE OF TANK DRIVING)

SHERLOCK: Syrian troops and allied militias have laid siege to it for years. And over the weekend, they split it into three parts.

AKRAM TOUMA: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: Akram Touma is the deputy prime minister for the Syrian political opposition. And he's one of hundreds of thousands of people trapped inside the shrinking enclave. He says the fighting is so bad, people can't even go outside to bury their dead. So families cower in basements, crammed together in the dank and the dark.

DEANA LYNN: Just now a surface missile hit very close. The basement downstairs got filled with dust.

SHERLOCK: Deana Lynn grew up in Michigan and now lives in Ghouta with her husband and eight children. She says people around her are desperate for the fighting to end. There have been videos posted online showing some residents calling for the armed groups to surrender and so stop the regime's bombing campaign. But Lynn says many people are also afraid of what will happen if the regime takes control.

DEANA LYNN: They're terrified because they're notorious for torture, and they're notorious for murder.

SHERLOCK: Past sieges have ended in forced surrenders with rebels and their families and supporters being sent by the regime to live in other opposition-held parts of the country. Lynn says people don't want to lose their homes, so they pray a country somewhere will intervene to avert this fate.

DEANA LYNN: We know, at the same time, in reality, that maybe the same thing will happen to us like the rest of the areas. We know that. But there's still hope.

SHERLOCK: That hope fades every day. Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF DINOSAUR'S "INTERLUDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.