The war in Syria has exhausted all superlatives. Worst day, worst month, worst year, worst ever. Words fail to describe the destruction of this ancient, beautiful land.
For the past few days, Syrian government warplanes, rockets and artillery have pummeled the area known as Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus. Eastern Ghouta has been under rebel control, and under siege, since 2012.
On Monday alone, the government bombardment killed more than 100 residents, including many children, according to a variety of groups contacted by CNN. The day’s death toll exceeded 50 by Tuesday evening.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Tuesday that rebel rocket and mortar fire from Eastern Ghouta had killed five civilians and wounded 20 in central Damascus. Syrian forces responded to the attacks with “precise strikes,” destroying rocket launchers and fortified positions used by the armed groups, SANA said.
The desperate situation, and the near-total absence of any sign that further violence can be avoided, prompted UNICEF, the UN’s Children’s Fund, to issue a blank statement headed simply, “The war on children in Syria: Reports of mass casualties among children in Eastern Ghouta and Damascus.”
It contained one sentence. “No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones.”
At the bottom of the page, an explanatory footnote reads, “UNICEF is issuing this blank statement. We no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering and our outrage.
“Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?”
CNN reached out to officials in Damascus for reaction. They had no words.
According to local tradition, the Ghouta, once a sprawling oasis on the outskirts of Damascus, was the Garden of Eden. When I lived in Damascus many years ago, I regularly went with my parents and their friends for picnics there and remember sitting in the cool shade by bubbling irrigation canals, playing backgammon under trees heavy with fruit.
Today, it’s perhaps the closest thing to hell on Earth.
Everyone CNN spoke to in Eastern Ghouta believes the government bombardment is a prelude to a major Russian-backed offensive to crush the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. There is absolutely nothing to stop it from happening.
The West, led by the United States under President Barack Obama, half-heartedly backed the effort to topple Assad’s regime but didn’t have the stomach for it in the end. The West, and its Arab Gulf allies, provided the opposition with just enough weapons to fight the regime but never enough to bring it down.
By the time Russia intervened to save its Syrian ally in September 2015, the United States was too distracted by the war on ISIS. Since then, the government in Damascus has retaken all of the city of Aleppo, and is slowly pushing into the few remaining rebel enclaves, including Eastern Ghouta.
No doubt the so-called international community will express concern over the bloodshed, and that is it. Many more Syrians will die, with words of sympathy ringing in their ears.