By Abigail Roberts | Contributor
Under siege since 2013, Eastern Ghouta is currently suffering from one of the heaviest attacks of Syria's seven-year war.
Eastern Ghouta is the last rebel stronghold in Damascus and is currently controlled by two main rebel factions, Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaysh al-Sham. In response, it has become the focus of a fierce offensive by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's forces.
In the midst of the crossfire lie 400,000 civilians. In the last eight days, 500 people have been killed, including 120 children and 2,500 injured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
For civilians and displaced peoples residing in Eastern Ghouta, the U.N. has called the situation in the enclave "hell on earth." Two hundred seventy-two thousand five hundred inhabitants are in need of humanitarian assistance, the majority of whom are children. Before the severe shelling, the Syrian government dropped fliers over Eastern Ghouta telling civilians to leave the area, but safe passage is far from guaranteed. Civilians must cross land mines, sniper fire and the aggressive and unpredictable behavior of both government and rebel forces in order to flee the contested area.
According to International Radio Network (IRN), there have been 24 attacks on hospitals, clinics and Red Crescent centers since Feb. 18, reducing already limited health care.
After 78 days without any humanitarian aid access to East Ghouta, on Feb. 15, an inter-agency convoy of the U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered aid to 7,200 people in a neighborhood of Eastern Ghouta. Although miraculous, the people reached represent only 2.6 percent of the total suffering population.
Malnutrition and starvation have been documented. According to Reach Resource Centre, a bag of flat bread, which is a staple food in Syria, now costs 94 Syrian pounds in Damascus but 1,500 Syrian pounds in Eastern Ghouta.
A Syrian refugee from Homs, currently residing in Northern Jordan, remembers Ghouta as an up-and-coming suburb.
"My grandfather's brother lived on the outskirts of Ghouta," the refugee said. "I remember my grandfather telling me about the harvest of watermelons; he would go and help cart away piles and piles of them. It breaks my heart to see what is happening there now."
On Feb. 24, the U.N. called for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for its immediate implementation. However, the Syrian government did not cease their ground and air offensive, continuing what they call Operation Damascus Steel.
On Feb. 16, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued a report saying, "We repeat our call for an urgently required one-month cessation of hostilities. We will continue appealing for access to all those in need, and remind those responsible of their obligation to grant it under international humanitarian law."