WASHINGTON – One of Syria’s deadliest periods in its seven-year long civil war continued unabated Thursday, amid efforts at the United Nations to impose a 30-day cease fire to permit the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged Eastern Ghouta.
The UN Security Council met Thursday after secretary general António Guterres likened the situation for nearly 400,000 Syrians to “hell on earth” the day before. “I don’t think we can let things go on in this horrendous way,” he said.
Randa Slim, Director of Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program at the Middle East Institute, said in an interview today that these most recent attacks have resulted from the reluctance of the United States and the international community to hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable for his actions in the past.
“These massacres are not new and we have seen the U.S. not stepping up to the plate again and I am not expecting this to change,” said Slim. She added that now that Assad has gained even more control over the country, the idea of a diplomatic solution to Syria is not likely.
“Why would he give up power through a negotiation process when he has constantly gained control of the country by means of military force?,” Slim said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom based pro-opposition organization, said in a statement on Thursday that at least 373 people have been killed in the Assad regime’s air campaign in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, including 90 children and 56 women.
The SOHR said in a statement today that another 1,745 civilians have been injured and nine hospitals have been destroyed. SOHR previously reported that Russian planes have been taking a part in the attacks, despite Russian government denials that it has killed any civilians.
According to SOHR, these attacks have come from aerial and missile assaults, as well as barrel bombings dropped from helicopters, which contain scrap metal and explosives.
The Syrian Arab News Agency, a government controlled news outlet, said today that three civilians – two children and an adult – had been killed on Thursday from rebel mortar attacks, while 22 others were injured.
In the latest diplomatic effort to halt the mass killings, the UN Security Council worked throughout the day, seeking a possible solution.
A resolution offered by Sweden and Kuwait reportedly calls for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria in order for humanitarian aid to be delivered to Eastern Ghouta.
The Syrian government, which tightly controls access to the area, denies it has blocked delivery of food, water and medicine to Eastern Ghouta – one of the last rebel strongholds in the country. However, the UN has made only one delivery of aid to the region since November, which has led to extreme food shortages and an escalation of food prices.
While the cease-fire resolution received widespread support from UN member nations, Russia – a staunch ally of Syria – is a main hurdle within the security council to pass the resolution.
Russia holds a veto vote in the UN and has vetoed 10 resolutions regarding Syria since the war began in 2011, including a veto in November on a resolution to investigate the use of chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime in April 2017.
Dana White, the Pentagon Chief Spokeswoman, said at a press briefing on Thursday that the U.S. has ongoing communications with Russia regarding military operations in Syria. However, these conversations are strictly regarding ISIS related activities and there has not been any communication with Russia regarding a potential cease fire.
Slim said that there were two moments when the trajectory of conflict could have been changed. One was in 2013, after Assad’s forces attacked Eastern Ghouta with chemical weapons killing more than 1,400 people. That attack received no response from the U.S., even after then-President Barak Obama threatened military action if Assad used chemical weapons in another attack.
The second moment was in 2015, when Assad’s control was diminishing, but Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened to prop up Assad’s government with military support.
Assad has been attempting to retake Eastern Ghouta since 2013 and began his most recent bombings on Sunday, with a possible offensive coming in the near future.
Slim said that she does not believe the Trump administration will take any direct action to directly intervene, despite the usual outcries and criticisms from people within the administration.
“Is not a high priority issue for this administration,” Slim said. “I don’t see them going to put any pressure on the Russians or the Iranians to cease their support for Syria.”
Slim added that the widespread military violence might dissipate some if Assad is to take the region, but there will still remain “a Syria that is poor, a Syria that is destroyed, and a Syria that is fragmented.”
The Syrian war began in March of 2011 when anti-Assad demonstrators were shot by security forces while protesting in the streets of Daraa. Over 400,000 people have been killed since the war began and millions are displaced within Syria and around the world.