Last year’s campaign to retake Raqqa saw U.S. forces fire more artillery rounds into that city than during the entire invasion of Iraq and resulted in over 3,000 civilians deaths. At that time, the U.S. rejected UN calls for a ceasefire.
NEW YORK — A UN-brokered ceasefire has once again been established, now for the sixth time, in Syria and, like most of those that preceded it, has now been broken. The current ceasefire sought to end fighting in Eastern Ghouta, an area near the Syrian capital of Damascus that has long been controlled by militant U.S.-Saudi backed rebels seeking to overthrow the Syrian government. Among the rebels in Eastern Ghouta is Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda.
The current situation bears numerous similarities to the ceasefires that surrounded the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) operation to retake Aleppo, all of which were eventually broken. These include the fact that major foreign-funded rebel groups active in the area — particularly those funded by Western governments and the Gulf monarchies, and including Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and other terrorist groups within the enclave — are exempt from the ceasefire.
Another similarity has been the blame Western governments have placed on Russia, which did not support the agreement and questioned reporting on civilian casualties that have come from groups like the White Helmets, a foreign-funded “propaganda construct” whose connections to terrorist groups and ineffectiveness in rendering aid to civilians is well-documented.
The similarities between this most recent UN-brokered ceasefire and those that occurred during the Syrian government’s retaking of Aleppo from February to December 2016 are likely by design, as it emerged just as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) was preparing for a massive operation to retake Eastern Ghouta from jihadist “rebel” groups.
However, the greatest similarity between the past failed ceasefires in Aleppo and the most recently failed ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta has been the humanitarian justification that has been used by Western governments. Its official purpose was said to be to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations.
“This is about saving lives”, asserted Sweden’s UN Ambassador, Olof Skoog. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley echoed Skoog, asking “In the three days it took us to adopt this resolution how many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and the shelling?”
No humanitarian concern for Raqqa
Yet, the words of these UN ambassadors – and others who voiced similar claims – ring hollow. While such humanitarian concerns proved relatively effective in swaying Western public opinion in 2016 during the battle for Aleppo, the U.S.-backed operation to take the city of Raqqa from Daesh (ISIS) forces last year proves that any and all humanitarian worries in Eastern Ghouta that have been voiced by Western government are disingenuous at best.
Daesh was expelled from Raqqa by the ground forces of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-dominated and U.S.-allied force, with U.S.-led coalition air support. In that campaign, the U.S. essentially leveled Raqqa by using more than 35,000 artillery rounds in five months of fighting against militants, more artillery rounds than were used during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. One Marine artillery battalion fired more rounds than any artillery battalion since Vietnam, and several howitzer cannons were burned out as a result of their extensive use. This was coupled with a massive bombing campaign that resulted in a “staggering” number of civilian casualties.
Overall, an estimated 3,200 civilians were estimated to have died as a result of the U.S.-backed operation and more than 200,000 are believed to have fled their homes. According to monitoring group Airwars, at least 1,300 of those civilians were killed by U.S.-coalition airstrikes. Pro-opposition groups reporting on Syria asserted that the high death toll was a result of U.S. airstrikes targeting areas that were “densely packed with civilians.”
- UN Feigns Outrage Over Ghouta While Terrorist Rockets Rain Down on Damascus
- Hypocrisy Knows No Bounds: Russia Blamed for Crisis in Eastern Ghouta
- East Ghouta: Selective Outrage Undermines Human Rights in Syria
- Investigation: White Helmets Committing Acts Of Terror Across Syria
U.S. airstrikes also bombed civilian evacuees attempting to cross the river, which at the time was one of the few ways out of the city, having stated that they would bomb anyone – civilian or not – who tried to cross. Worse still, the U.S. destroyed the pipeline that supplies Raqqa with drinking water, cutting civilians off from an essential resource. Under the Geneva Conventions, the military targeting of civilian infrastructure, especially water supplies, is a war crime.
During that time, no “humanitarian ceasefire” was implemented. When the UN and humanitarian groups requested a ceasefire to evacuate civilians, the U.S. flatly rejected. At the time, the U.S.-led coalition asserted that a humanitarian pause would actually cost more civilian lives. However, some SDF officials actually took to blaming the civilians of Raqqa themselves. Omar Alloush, a senior official in the SDF-affiliated Civil Council of Raqqa, told Middle East Eye that the civilians who were dying from U.S. coalition airstrikes had “stayed to steal, to help Daesh or they have not [sic] the ability to get out.” Raqqa and much of Northeastern Syria continues to be occupied by the U.S. and its SDF allies.
As a result, some have asserted that this most recent ceasefire has little to do with humanitarianism and saving lives. According to Dr. Jamal Wakeem, professor of history and international relations at Lebanese University in Beirut, “… the humanitarian aid that the U.S. called for is a mere pretext for it to open the corridor to the terrorists and to supply them with ammunition and with other logistics.”
As the U.S.’ other recent reactions to events in Syria have shown, U.S. government officials voice concern for the Syrian people only when it can be used to justify more aggressive efforts to bring about the U.S.’ long-standing goal of removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Top Photo | Black smoke rises from a US airstrike on the eastern side of Raqqa, Syria, July 26, 2017. (AP/Hussein Malla)
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, and 21st Century Wire among others. She currently lives in Southern Chile.