DAMASCUS is a tale of two cities. On one side, buildings stand tall, divided by neat rows of flowering trees. On the other, it’s a vision of hell.
In the government-controlled west, people attend work, school and dinner parties. In rebel-held Eastern Ghouta a few hundred yards away, they hide in basements, awaiting the next air strike.
The military siege of the eastern suburb of the capital, home to nearly 400,000 residents, began in 2012 and has become one of the longest and most brutal in modern history.
For five years the enclave of 40 square miles has been pummelled by the Syrian regime, and more recently by Russia’s bombs, in efforts to dislodge the opposition from its stronghold and protect Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power.
“There is little sign of daily life here,” said McKenzie’s Stuart Ray, a former British military intelligence officer. “We could see no cars driving or people on the streets, no shopkeepers opening their stores. It’s a wasteland.”
According to the United Nations, 91 per cent of Jobar has been destroyed by the regime’s strikes, which have intensified in recent weeks. Government territory is regularly hit by mortars from rebel areas of Ghouta, but the damage is nothing to the devastation of the barrel bombs.
The UN identified about 3,853 destroyed, 5,141 severely damaged and 3,547 moderately damaged buildings in the more densely-populated western parts of the enclave. In the Ein Terma neighbourhood, where 18,500 still live, satellite images show 71 per cent of buildings destroyed or damaged.