Almost 400,000 people are trapped in Eastern Ghouta, the last enclave on the outskirts of Damascus that is still not under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime.
The UN Security Council has asked for a month-long ceasefire and for a humanitarian corridor to be opened up to allow civilians to leave. Putin, on whose army and air support Assad has relied, has instead called for a daily five-hour “humanitarian pause”
Russia’s call will carry more weight than the UN’s. Meanwhile, one of the regime’s worst bombing campaigns has been allowed to kill 500 people in eight days.
The ceasefire which should begin on 27 February may be a small respite but will not stop the Syrian army from continuing to bombard the area and anyone in it, including with chemical weapons. Russia immediately broke the terms of the UN resolution by dropping further bombs on Eastern Ghouta while Iranian-backed militias controlled by Qassem Sulemaini continued to try and drive out the last of the rebel forces.
The 250-300 remaining members of Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) are thought to have lost almost all control of the area. But their military efforts are keeping the army at bay.
Eastern Ghouta fell early on in the initial 2011 uprisings against Assad and HTS and their predecessors were quick to establish themselves there, but both of the largest rebel groups, Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman, say they have little power and are not in direct contact with the main Syrian al-Qaeda base in Idlib. HTS were able to institute their own taxes, establish Sharia courts and harass and govern the population of Ghouta through fear.
The siege has been ongoing since 2013 and now appears to be in its final phase, and the complete destruction, rather than just the starvation, of the territory is on the cards.