‘Living a catastrophe’: Post-ISIS, Syria’s civil war rages on at a horrific pace

A picture taken on February 8, 2018 shows smoke plumes rising following a reported regime air strike in the rebel-held enclave of Jisreen in the Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. A fourth consecutive day of heavy regime bombing raids on the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus killed 22 civilians . CREDIT: Abdulmonam Eassa AFP/Getty Images.

Although the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) is greatly diminished in Syria, the civil war continues to take lives at a frightening pace there. For those near the capital of Damascus, this has been the deadliest week in nearly three years.

At least 229 people have been killed in airstrikes targeting rebels in Eastern Ghouta over the last four days.

“The people here have collapsed, people are seen talking to themselves in the streets,” a spokesman from the Civil Defence rescue service told Reuters. “They don’t know where to go. We are living a catastrophe.” A spokesperson for Save the Children also said that schools are being hit, leaving terrified children “starved, bombed and trapped.”

The United States has called for an end to the airstrikes, as has France. Meanwhile, things are getting evermore complicated in the country’s nearly seven-year war. U.S. forces have pivoted their focus from the fight against ISIS to fighting Russian-backed Syrian forces.

In retaliation for an attack on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Deir Ezzor, U.S. forces struck back with airstrikes on Wednesday.

At a press briefing on Thursday, Pentagon Chief Spokeswoman Dana White insisted that the strike did not represent a shift in U.S. strategy: “We are not looking for a conflict with the regime. Any action that takes away from our ongoing operations to defeat ISIS is a distraction.”

The Pentagon said that it was in communication with Russian forces in the area before, during, and after the strikes, but the Russian government accused the United States of mission creep, saying that the presence of U.S. troops there is “illegal” and intended to “seize Syrian economic assets.”

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also doubled down, calling the U.S. strikes “new aggression that poses a war crime and a crime against humanity.”

But Russia is busy with its own bombing campaigns. Casualties are mounting in Idlib, with Russia pounding rebel targets there after a Russian jet was struck down in Saraqib, near Damascus, over the weekend.

Civilians also continue to flee border towns where Kurdish and Turkish forces have been clashing since January 20.

Turkey has also been shelling towns and villages in northern Syria, claiming Kurds within Syria are tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party, which it considers a terrorist organization. Turkey has also repeatedly called on U.S. troops to leave the town of Manbij, further east along the Syrian border, so it can expand its operations. (The United States has declined to do so.)

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron also issued a statement saying he’s concerned that chlorine bombs have been used against civilians in the past few week, but according to the Associated Press, stopped short of holding any particular party responsible.