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Eastern Ghouta Gains Attention In Syrian Civil War


The Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta has been under siege for five years. It's become a frontline between rebel forces and the Syrian regime, making living conditions unbearable. Hope has faded that a cease-fire put in place last week could bring relief to civilians there, as there are reports of Syrian forces seizing a quarter of rebel-held Eastern Ghouta today. In the last two weeks of government bombardment, more than 600 residents have died, including many children. Activist Kassem Eid was forced to leave his home in Ghouta and continue his work in exile. He joined us in our New York bureau and told us that he's been in touch with people from his home region.

What are they telling you?

KASSEM EID: The situation in Eastern Ghouta is simply horrible. It's beyond description. People have been living there under siege. They suffered from what I suffered from, which was siege, bombardment, chemical weapons, starvation, rape, torture. And my hometown was literally the first victim of the Assad siege and starvation campaign because, eventually, we literally had to surrender, raise the regime flag just in order to get food and medicine and return after we lost dozens of women and children, literally, who starved to death.

MONTAGNE: Take us back to Eastern Ghouta before the fighting.

EID: Yes.

MONTAGNE: What was it like?

EID: We call it literally in Syria, heaven on Earth. Beautiful olive trees - some of the olive trees there actually are 500 years old. People there are simple and kind, very moderate. But they are very secular. You can see Christians and Muslims living there together in harmony for hundreds of years. How can I say? It's a spot that was reserved from time.

MONTAGNE: You've been in Washington. You've been lobbying for several years now. You've been offering evidence of what looks like genocide, evidence of people being tortured in prisons. What about the Trump administration? Is there - do you have any sense that you'll get more help, if you want to call it that, than you ever got from the Obama administration?

EID: Well, actually, we already did. The Trump administration so far had made some kind of progress when the Trump administration launched a strike against the Assad regime back in 2017 in April after the regime used chemical weapons again, sarin gas - the same gas that I survived from in Ghouta. But unfortunately, when we keep monitoring their approach to Syria, we see that they're literally still doing the same, old Obama-Syria policy that proved failure after more than six years of brutal Iranian and Russian and even North Korean intervention in the Syrian crisis. They have helped the Assad regime with political and military cover. I'm hoping and trying to lobby the Trump administration to do more action in Syria. We're trying to push for safe zones to protect civilians to go back from refugee camps and other countries to live there safe and secure. And I'm going to be honest with you. So far, we're not making enough progress.

MONTAGNE: Syrian Activist Kassem Eid. His book is "My Country: A Syrian Memoir." Thank you very much for joining us.

EID: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "THROUGH YOUR EYES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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