Rebel Snipers Prevent Citizens from Escaping Suffering in Eastern Ghouta

Rebel snipers are preventing Syrian civilians from leaving eastern Ghouta through the al-Wafidin crossing point opened this week by the government to facilitate evacuations, a UN official who entered the area with a relief convoy earlier this week, said. He added that many of those who wanted to leave may eventually decide to stay, even if the snipers left, because they fear for their safety in the government-held territory.

Civilians from eastern Ghouta have not yet been offered relocation and even if the government did so, there is no place in rebel territory that could accommodate the large numbers that might want to leave, The New York Times reported.

“They want out — either the bombing to stop, or to get out. But reach safety where?” the official, Sajjad Malik, said. “We are getting to a point where there is literally no flight option. What worse situation could there be?”

Malik said that two people had been killed by rebel snipers as a family tried to escape through a corridor from the eastern Ghouta city of Douma, an area controlled by a rebel group called the Army of Islam.

The government’s forces have also been accused of making crossings difficult. At the other end of eastern Ghouta, a second exit corridor was opened on Thursday from an area controlled by a different rebel group, Faylaq al-Rahman. There, a family of five was killed on Friday in a government airstrike as they tried to reach the crossing, said Ahmed Hamdan, an anti-government activist in the area.

Protests erupted on Friday in the town of Kafr Batna, which is also controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman. A resident there confirmed the authenticity of footage shown on Syrian state television of residents asking the group to leave so that the government would stop bombing.

On Friday, government shelling also interrupted a humanitarian aid delivery, which forced United Nations officials and workers on the convoy to hide in basements, said observers in Douma. The UN humanitarian coordinator in Damascus, Ali al-Za’tari, noted that the shelling near Douma had erupted despite assurances of safety from Russia, and was putting members of the convoy at risk — workers with the United Nations and with the International Committee of the Red Cross, and volunteers with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.