Less than 100 years after the 'Great Syrian Revolt', the Damascus countryside has been torched again.
BEIRUT - As the Syrian conflict approaches its seventh anniversary on March 15, all eyes are trained on Eastern Ghouta, the Damascus countryside presently the scene of one of the bloodiest chapters of the Syrian war.
Held by the armed opposition since 2012, it has been a thorn in the backside of Damascus, raining the Syrian capital with mortar shells whenever Russian and Syrian firing on rebel pockets became too intense.
The opposition strikes were amateurish and imprecise, often landing in civilian neighbourhoods rather than military targets, whipping up a big death toll in eastern Damascus, where the Christian districts are located, along with the ancient Old City.
A massive operation started in mid-February, aimed at retaking Eastern Ghouta fully from the rebels, with 11,000 ground troops and cover from the Russian Air Force. Three weeks later, government troops had retaken 35% of Eastern Ghouta, promising to finish off the rest in weeks.
Residents of the agricultural fields surrounding Damascus, known as Eastern Ghouta, rose in revolt against French colonial rule 93 years ago, bringing the “Great Syrian Revolt” to the gates of Damascus. They were responding to a call to arms from veteran Druze commander Sultan Pasha al-Atrash in the summer of 1925. Rifles were smuggled into Eastern Ghouta’s villages on mules, with military instructions carried on the wrappers of cigarette packs or sown into the sandals of messengers from Damascus.