By Erica Gumbert
Syria has been involved in a seven-year civil war that has claimed the lives of over 400,000, according to the United Nations. Despite these grueling facts, many news teams are not keeping the American public informed on what has been taking place, until recently.
This past Monday, March 5, almost 100 civilians, women and children included, were killed in a Syrian government air strike carried out near the nation’s capital of Damascus. Eastern Ghouta, just east of Damascus, was hit with two toxic chemical attacks, despite the five-hour ceasefire to allow for civilian evacuation, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations.
Syria has denied allegations of carrying out chemical attacks and claimed that the recent Eastern Ghouta attack was staged, according to BBC News. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also personally dismissed the allegations of using chemical weapons by calling them “ridiculous lies.” Assad said the attacks were not carried out by his military. He has made this claim every time chemical warfare has been used in Syria since his renouncement of chemical weapons nearly four years ago.
Children, women, and teenagers are watching their hometowns be barrel bombed with chemical warfare. Assad is targeting hospitals, apartments, and other civilian sectors in his own country with bombing campaigns, killing and wounding hundreds of innocent civilians in only a few days’ time.
The United Nations have held talks in both Switzerland and Geneva, which started back in 2012, but have not reached any positive solutions or negotiations in regards to the Syrian war.
Syria is the largest source of refugees worldwide, now having roughly 5.4 million civilians fleeing the violence. A large scale problem many girls and women refugees have been faced with in finding aid distributions is fear of exploitation. These women and minors fear aid workers because they assume they would have to offer sexual favors in order to receive aid and meals. After being forced to relocate to a different place, women are having to decide if being a victim of sexual violence is worth their children not starving to death.
The job of a local aid worker is to provide essential items to live for these refugees, but, instead, some are demoralizing human beings and only offering aid in exchange for sex. According to BBC News, The International Rescue Committee held a survey in June of 2015 and found that over 40% of women and girls had said sexual violence took place while they were receiving aid services.
According to CBS News, Danielle Spencer, a charity humanitarian advisor who worked is Syrian refugee camps from 2014-2015, said that “Real change hasn’t happened on a large enough scale to stop the abuse. Somewhere there has been a decision made that it is okay for women’s bodies to continue to be used, abused, [and] violated in order for aid to be delivered for a larger group of people.” A president committing war crimes against his own people is disturbing and many members of the United Nations are trying to solve this complicated situation as best as possible, working to bring an end to the refugee and civilian abuse and the civil war.
However, Assad has never shown a willingness to negotiate on terms remotely acceptable to the rebel opposition, making no visible sign of a diplomatic solution or negotiation. Because of the lack of political resolution, there is no effective way to solve the violence, leaving war to ravage the land. Russia’s intervention in 2015, sparked when Assad sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting military aid, changed the balance of power by placing Assad’s forces in control. According to BBC News, the Syrian state media strongly advocated for the Russian air strikes that began Sept. 30 of 2015.
Putin likely chose to interfere with the Russian civil war for alternative reasons though. “It gives Russia an opportunity to exert influence. Putin wants to be seen as strong at home and can therefore exert military force without endangering Russians at home,” McNick social studies teacher Randy Royal said.
The Russian military said to BBC News that its troops were originally only targeting the Islamic State, which control parts of Syria, and the next day, the Russian military’s air campaign was targeting all terrorist groups that reside in Syria. Russian troops are to offer security and transport to civilian families trying to flee the war-zone.
According to USA Today, the Russian support appears to have energized Assad’s forces, who have suffered a number of defeats throughout the war. Former U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned in the article that “Putin is intervening in Syria because his client, Mr. Assad, was crumbling and citing atrocities against his own people.” Christopher Chivvis, an analyst at the independent nonprofit RAND Corporation, also noted in the article that “now we have to contemplate going to war with Russia if we want to get rid of Assad.”
Putin has reportedly been gathering new Russian nuclear weapons, but is hoping that nuclear warfare will never be used. According to AP News, Putin said, “If someone makes a decision to destroy Russia, then we have a legitimate right to respond. Yes, it will mean a global catastrophe for mankind… but as a citizen of Russia and the head of [the] Russian state, I would ask: What is such a world for, if there were no Russia?”
Regardless of Russia’s presence in the area, the efforts the Syrian government’s bombing campaign has forced many of the 400,000 civilian residents of Eastern Ghouta to sleep in basements and makeshift shelters, It has also overwhelmed rescue workers who have spent days digging out survivors from the wreckage of bombed out buildings, according to Time Magazine.
United Nations human rights officers said in Time Magazine that “At least 346 people have been killed in Eastern Ghouta since the Syrian government heightened its offensive attacks. At least 92 of those deaths occurred in just one 13-hour period… Another 878 people have been wounded in airstrikes.”