By Elena Teslova
Decrying the worsening situation in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region, the head of Syria’s opposition delegation said Monday that helping civilians must be prioritized.
“The situation in Eastern Ghouta is causing serious concern, and the last three months were the worst ever for this region,” Nasr al-Hariri, head of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on his first-ever visit to Moscow.
“We call on everyone to put [as the top priority] the lives of the civilians -- in Eastern Ghouta, in Idlib, in Raqqah, in Afrin. Rescuing the lives of the civilians must be a priority for everyone, despite the things we have to do in combating terrorism.”
Al-Hariri said that despite the implementation of safe zones in Syria, there are many regions where the armistice does not work.
Commenting on whether the opposition delegation will take part in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress (SNDC) in Russia’s Black Sea resort city of Sochi, al-Hariri claimed that no final decision has been made yet.
“We will not make a final decision on our participation in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi until we have the exact information about its purposes, which we have to discuss with our international partners and the UN.”
He added that bombardment of opposition forces in Syria has resulted in their refusal to participate in the SNDC.
Home to some 400,000 residents, Eastern Ghouta has been under siege for five years, and humanitarian access to the city has been completely cut off. Hundreds are in urgent need of medical care.
In the past eight months, the Bashar al-Assad regime has intensified its siege of Eastern Ghouta, making it almost impossible to bring food or medicine into the district and leaving hundreds of medical patients in need of treatment.
Notably, the district falls within a network of de-escalation zones -- endorsed by Turkey, Russia and Iran -- in which acts of aggression are expressly forbidden.
Syria has only just begun to emerge from a destructive civil war that began in early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.