Syria conflict spirals into ‘hell on Earth’

State of terror: The rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta has been under siege since 2013. © Getty

Has the Syria conflict become a new world war? Hundreds have been “massacred” in one of the war’s deadliest attacks. As other world powers join the bloodbath, there is scant hope of peace.

Eastern Ghouta was once a peaceful oasis amid the harsh Syrian desert — often compared by locals to the Garden of Eden. But now it has been dubbed the “closest thing to hell on Earth”, after forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad unleashed waves of bombs upon the region.

Since Monday at least 250 civilians have died, with seven hospitals hit by the onslaught. The area has been held by rebels since 2012, and government forces claim they launched “precise strikes” against terrorists operating there. But reports from the ground say otherwise.

Civilians were allegedly targeted indiscriminately, with Amnesty International claiming the attacks constitute “flagrant war crimes”.

One doctor recalled treating a boy pulled from the rubble. His face was blue, his mouth full of dirt, and he gasped for air through “lungs of sand”. The boy was just one victim in what the doctor calls “the massacre of the 21st century”.

Many other children lay among the dead. In response UNICEF released a statement entitled: “The war on children in Syria.” But beneath the heading, the page was blank. There were no words left to describe the atrocities.

And there is little sign it will end soon. In fact, according to CNN this assault is merely the “prelude” to an upcoming “Russian-backed offensive” to crush resistance in the area.

Russia has long been an ally to the Syrian president, however, it is just one of many powers involved in the conflict which has become a proxy for wider international rivalries.

For example, America provided weapons to rebels, and launched airstrikes against pro-Assad troops — some of which recently killed several Russian mercenaries.

And to the north, Turkey is fighting against Kurdish soldiers (who are also backed by the Americans). The USA and Turkey are NATO allies, but their support of rival factions in Syria is putting intense strain on their relationship.

On top of this, Israel has also started bombing Assad’s forces; its rival Iran is a long-term ally to the regime.

So is the Syrian War actually a world war?

Up in arms

It increasingly looks like it, some argue. The conflict first erupted after Syrians protested about domestic issues like unemployment. Now all manner of powers use it as a battleground for their own aims. Viewing it as a world war helps us realise that Western nations are partly accountable for the horrors unfolding there.

We must not sensationalise the issue, others respond. Different countries are involved but it is Syrian blood being spilled, and Syrian cries rising unheeded into the sky. Using overblown terms like “world war” distracts us from this fact. We must not let the Syrian people be forgotten amidst this uncaring geopolitical wrangling.

You Decide

  1. Is war ever justified?
  2. Would Western countries sending troops to Syria help end the war?

Activities

  1. In pairs, write down everything you know about the war in Syria. Share your thoughts with the class and write them down on the board to create a wide selection of facts. What do you know now that you did not know before?
  2. Do some research into the history of the Syrian conflict — use the resources in Become An Expert to help you. Once you have got to grips with the situation, draw a diagram which shows who is involved in the conflict and what their motives are.

Some People Say...

“We are waiting for our turn to die. This is the only thing I can say.”

Bilal Abu Salah — eastern Ghouta resident.

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Syrian Civil War began after a civil uprising in 2011. Since then approximately 400,000 people have been killed. Eastern Ghouta, the site of recent intense bombardment, is the last major rebel-held area near Damascus. However, the rebels still control areas of eastern and northern Syria.
What do we not know?
What will happen next. Whilst there are reports of further assaults being planned, Western leaders including Emmanuel Macron have called for a truce to allow civilians to be evacuated. It can also be difficult to determine the precise make-up of the rebel fighting force, with soldiers split up into hundreds of smaller factions. This also means that the grouping does not have a clear command structure and hierarchy.

Word Watch

Garden of Eden
According to the Bible, this was the paradise where Adam and Eve were created.
Bashar al-Assad
President of Syria. Since the start of the war he has been accused of war crimes, most notably for the use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Terrorists
The rebels in Syria are fractured into many smaller groups — some considered terrorist organisations. One of the most well known is the al-Nusra Front, a group formerly associated with al-Qaeda.
Proxy
A proxy war is when conflict is orchestrated by major powers, but when neither side directly engages the other. Instead they attack each other’s interests using the forces of other nations or groups.
Kurdish
Syrian Kurds were funded by America to help defeat ISIS in Syria. However, Turkey has a long-running conflict with Kurdish groups and has recently attacked them near the Syria/Turkey border.
NATO
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Made up of 29 nations. If one member is attacked, all others are required to come to its assistance.
Iran
For more information on Iran’s role see the New York Times link in Become An Expert.

Subjects

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