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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Syria opposition says crimes against humanity being committed in eastern Ghouta 

UN-brokered peace talks have been overshadowed by frustration over humanitarian access to the Damascus suburb  

Nasr Al Hariri, head of the unified Syrian opposition delegation, speaks during an event on the plight of eastern Ghouta in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 13, 2017. Syrian National Commission (SNC)
Nasr Al Hariri, head of the unified Syrian opposition delegation, speaks during an event on the plight of eastern Ghouta in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 13, 2017. Syrian National Commission (SNC)

The Syrian opposition urged the international community on Wednesday to act quickly to save those in need in the besieged Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta.

The suburb has become the latest epicentre of the conflict in recent weeks but the UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva have been overshadowed by frustration over access to the area, especially as fighting has declined in large parts of the country.

On Wednesday morning, the unified opposition hosted an event on the sidelines of the Geneva talks to focus attention on the plight of Syrians trapped in eastern Ghouta, who they say are victims of "crimes against humanity".

"If the international community is serious about a credible political solution and de-escalation in Syria, all must act now to save the hundred of thousands on the brink of death in eastern Ghouta," said Hanadi Abou Arab, deputy head of the unified Syrian opposition said.

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The eastern Damascus suburb is among the last remaining opposition strongholds in Syria and located in one of four so-called "de-escalation zones", where fighting between regime forces and rebels was supposed to cease under a deal brokered by regime allies Russia and Iran and rebel-backer Turkey earlier this year.

"We are here not to share emotions, but to share humanity. Many people are alive, but only a few who carry humanity within. The tragedy in eastern Ghouta must stop," Ms Abou Arab said.

Hanadi Abou Arab, deputy head of the unified Syrian opposition delegation, speaks during an event on the plight of eastern Ghouta in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 13, 2017. Syrian National Commission (SNC)
Hanadi Abou Arab, deputy head of the unified Syrian opposition delegation, speaks during an event on the plight of eastern Ghouta in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 13, 2017. Syrian National Commission (SNC)

Humanitarian conditions in eastern Ghouta, which has a population of 400,000, have deteriorated rapidly since 2013. The suburb has been largely cut off from supplies of food and medicine and has been under constant bombardment by the Syrian air force and shelling by pro-government and rebel ground forces.

"Most of the schools have been closed in the last month because of the intensive bombing. Such acts are categorised as crimes against humanity," Ms Abou Arab said.

Hanadi Abou Arab, deputy head of the unified Syrian opposition delegation, speaks during an event on the plight of eastern Ghouta in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 13, 2017. Syrian National Commission (SNC)
Hanadi Abou Arab, deputy head of the unified Syrian opposition delegation, speaks during an event on the plight of eastern Ghouta in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 13, 2017. Syrian National Commission (SNC)

The head of the Syrian opposition vowed that the delegation would not give up on justice. .

“We will never give up on our people’s calls for freedom, democracy and justice through a political transition, and we will not rest until all Syrians are protected from detention, besiegement, and aerial bombardment," Nasr Al Hariri said during the event. "Ghouta is the place of wheat, fruits, rich sources and hopes, and now its people are dying because of hunger — yes, hunger."

Opposition member Hind Kabawat said, "What is happening in eastern Ghouta is a war crime. It is unacceptable that there are children being targeted only because they are playing in the streets."

Ms Kabawat said the barbaric treatment of civilians in the countryside around Damascus countryside clearly reflected the "helplessness and silence " of the international community over the sieges and killings of Syrians.

Meanwhile, talks resumed in Geneva on Wednesday between UN officials and the unified opposition delegation in a bid to end the devastating war.

The opposition's spokesperson, Yahya Aridi, said "today’s session was probably more serious and more fruitful than yesterday's".

"We went into all sorts of details about the electoral process, with charts that explained the phases. It was discussed within the framework of political transition, which is going to be the subject of our last session in this round tomorrow," Mr Aridi added.

The regime has refused to hold direct negotiations with the opposition until it withdraws calls for Syria to oust president Bashar Al Assad.