The East Ghouta area in Rural Damascus hosts an estimated population of 393,000 including some 99,500 internally displaced people (IDP) representing approximately 25.3 per cent of the population in the enclave.
Parts of East Ghouta have been classified as besieged by the UN since November 2013. Since November 2016, the entire enclave has been classified as besieged by the UN. East Ghouta has been subject to periods of intense military activity during 2017, with a significant escalation in hostilities between the Government of Syria (GoS) and non-state armed groups (NSAGs) from February and March which reportedly killed scores of civilians. This was followed by an eruption of infighting between NSAGs during April and May. Patterns of short-term displacement within the besieged enclave have also been reported in response to temporary and localized deterioration in the security situation, and have been shaped by the dynamics amongst the NSAGs present on the ground.
Following the Astana Memorandum on 4 May 2017 between Russia, Turkey and Iran that foresaw the establishment of so-called “De-escalation Areas”, a ceasefire covering the besieged area of East Ghouta was declared on 22 July. The de-escalation agreement was formalized with NSAGs for the entire area by September. Reports of fighting in some areas (including Jobar and Ein Terma) continued unabated.
Tensions among different NSAGs between May and mid-September put civilians at risk of being caught in the cross-fire and limiting their movements within the enclave. From late October and during most of November 2017, hostilities intensified with frequent reports of shelling on several densely populated areas of East Ghouta, including Ein Tarma, Jobar, Kafr Batna, Harasta, Nashabiyeh, Hammourieh, Modira and Jisreen. The World Health Organization reports that from 14 to 17 November, 84 people were killed and 659 injured, including hundreds of women and children. At the end of November, airstrikes on Duma and other areas reportedly resulted in further civilian deaths. Over the same period, more than two hundred mortar shells and rockets were reportedly fired on residential areas in Damascus resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries. The number of civilians killed and injured in heavily populated areas may indicate that some military operations are conducted in an indiscriminate manner.
Internal displacement seems to continue to occur within the enclave, with no reports of outflows of displaced population to neighboring areas, where services would be available for support.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation was further compounded by the closure of all commercial traffic of basic goods into the enclave between mid-September until 26 November when some commercial trucks were allowed in. However, those commercial deliveries appear to have been only one-off deliveries, and regular access for limited quantities of commercial supplies has not been re-established.
The closure of the only crossing point into East Ghouta together with the escalated fighting have resulted in a rapid deterioration of the food security situation with malnutrition rates among children increasing fivefold since January 2017. UN and partners’ efforts to evacuate some 500 critical medical cases have not yet been successful due to insecurity and pending approval by the Syrian Government.