Syria enters its eight year of war with half a million dead and no 'light at the end of the tunnel'
Today Eastern Ghouta and Afrin are the main battlefields. The evacuation of sick people has begun from the rebel enclave near Damascus. In the north the Turks are close to victory, a claim the Kurds deny. The civilian population is increasingly poor and desperate: 80 per cent live below the poverty line.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – Syria’s civil war entered its eighth year today. It all began on 15 March 2011 when soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad fired on protesters.
Since then, the bloodshed has caused the death of more 350,000 people (500,000 according to some sources), and millions of refugees, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.
During this period, what started out as domestic unrest has splintered into ever more complicated conflicts as well as a proxy war involving regional (Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia) and world powers (Russia, United States).
The conflict has experienced alternating phases between rebel groups advances and government forces counteroffensives, the latter backed by Iranian and Shia militias and air strikes by the Syrian regime’s Russian ally.
Beginning in 2014, the focus has been the war against the Islamic State (IS) which, at the height of its power, controlled over half the territory of Syria and Iraq.
However, the intervention of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the air power of the US-led international coalition produced the liberation of Raqqa, the "capital" of the self-proclaimed Caliphate and the defeat of the jihadis, at least in military terms.
More recently, international media and world capitals have focused their attention on the fate of Afrin, a Kurdish majority area under siege from the Turkish army, and Eastern Ghouta, a rebel enclave on the outskirts of Damascus under government siege.
On 24 February, the UN Security Council approved a 30-day humanitarian truce, to alleviate the suffering of an exhausted civilian population; however, the resolution has remained unfulfilled and the violence continues.
Yesterday, the Syrian army, supported by its Russian ally, entered a small but strategic town in Eastern Ghouta. Meanwhile, people in need of medical treatment have been evacuated from the same area.
At least 25 patients and their families are believed to have left via a government checkpoint on Wednesday. Another 31 were evacuated on Tuesday as part of an agreement between the Jaysh al-Islam rebel group and the government's ally Russia.
UN Secretary General António Guterres has renewed his appeal for a ceasefire in Syria, saying that the estimated 390,000 people trapped there are "living in a hell on earth", in need of food, water and sanitation.
For its part, Turkey has continued its offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin, in northern Syria.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (which has a large network of sources on the ground, often close to anti-Assad opposition), Turkish forces and their Syrian allies have surrounded the town and control the villages around it.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the area would fall shortly, a claim immediately rejected by the Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG), which say that the Turks continue to bomb the roads around Afrin but have not yet surrounded it and that the resistance continues.
In this scenario war and divisions, civilians are the first victims, as much in Damascus (where the most survive thanks to aid and money from abroad) as in Aleppo, Homs and other parts of the country.
More than 80 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, the country’s healthcare is collapsing and many, especially young people and professionals, have chosen to leave.
For many, seven years after the start of the conflict, there is yet no light at the of the tunnel amid a feeling of desperation.