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Ghouta's Youth Become War Reporters to Shine a Light on Suffering Civilians

Noor and Alaa filming the destruction caused by Syrian regime air strikes in Eastern Ghouta. Used with permission.

The following is a series of testimonies from Eastern Ghouta. It comes following two testimonies from Eastern Ghouta (in the suburbs of Damascus) by a nurse and a dentist, published on February 20 and March 4, 2018, respectively, and published by the Act For Ghouta collective. Global Voices has also published testimonies from Damascus, which you can read here.

Controlled by anti-regime rebels, Eastern Ghouta has been under siege by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad and its allies since the end of 2013. But in recent weeks, the violence intensified drastically. In the two weeks between the evening of February 18 to the evening of March 3, the medical data by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reveals 4,829 wounded and 1,005 dead or 344 wounded and 71 dead per day. Civilian infrastructure has also been severely damaged, with more than 25 hospitals and health centers hit, some more than once in four days.  

Two sisters from Eastern Ghouta, 12-year-old Noor and 8-year-old Alaa, have taken to Twitter in a joint account to speak for themselves about the ongoing siege.

The girls and their mother, Shams Al-Khateeb, saw tens of orphan and homeless children left without care after losing their parents. Al-Khateeb created the Twitter account for her daughters hoping that people would see what was taking place in Ghouta and demand action.

Global Voices (GV) got in touch with young Noor, who talked about why she wanted to become a journalist:

I want to be a journalist to convey the innocents’ suffering or study chemistry to make medicine to the people.

Despite the siege, Noor used to go to school and was one of the school's most brilliant fifth-grade students. But recently her school was bombed by jets allegedly launched by the Assad regime and the ongoing military campaign prevented her from attending other schools.

Now, Noor and her family spend most of the time at home.

They survived an air strike that targeted their neighbours in which Alaa suffered relatively mild injuries.

Sometimes, the sisters walk the streets or visit shelters to film and talk about the deepening humanitarian crisis. Speaking to GV their mother Al-Khateeb said they have become desperate:

Most of the time the girls stay close to me and hug me and start crying when an air strike hit nearby. We don't have much food, only some herbs like parsley, nor water to drink or shower.

The aftermath of the strike on February 22, 2018, was filmed and posted on Twitter. Warning: the video is graphic.

In the video, Noor cries:

Why is he bombing us? What have we done to him? And what does he want from us?

Noor and Alla, like other children, want the bombing to stop so they can return to school and resume a normal life, their mother Al-Khateeb reports to GV.

Documenting the war

The Syrian war is often noted as the most documented conflict in history, due to Syrians themselves who have documented it.

When 20-year-old Mahrous Mazen was sitting in his class seven years ago, he never thought he would become a photojournalist covering the suffering of the people of his home city, Douma, one of the towns in Eastern Ghouta.

But due to the horrors of war inflicted in Syria, Mazen decided to become a photographer.

Mahrous Mazen holding a camera and filming the air raids by the Syrian regime. Source: Twitter

Mazen takes his camera out every day to photograph the destruction, the dead and the injured following bombing campaigns by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally.

Mazen posts daily photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or sends them to news agencies “so that the world sees these horrors,” he tells GV.

Mahrous told GV that his father was killed in an air raid by regime jets in 2014. He lives today in a shelter in Ghouta along with his family and neighbours.

The shelters are just normal basements lacking the proper equipment to protect civilians from air strikes.

Every shelter hosts 30 to 40 family, I've visited one in Arbin that hosts 120 families.

Mazen continues:

It's very hard to get an internet connection in order to upload the photos and videos because of intensive shelling. Many families are still buried under the rubbles and can't be reached by White Helmets.

Mazen tells GV that he refuses to leave Ghouta. He fears the total destruction of Ghouta, referring to the city of Aleppo, which was devastated in 2016. Mazen doesn't trust the current regime's claims that it will guarantee a safe evacuation given how frequently it violates these agreements.

He also points out that even the United Nations (UN) in Syria have been targeted when jets hit locations near UN aid trucks while they were delivering food. Medical supplies bound for Ghouta were also seized by the regime on March 5.

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