Destination: Ghouta

Destination: Ghouta
Syrian activists held a shock protest at City Airport this weekend, against an airline's relationship with a Russian state-owned weapons manufacturer.
4 min read
15 March, 2018
Syria UK held the Eastern Ghouta protest outside London's City Airport [Steve Eason]
Bewildered holiday makers arrived at London's City Airport this weekend and were handed tickets to a destination that has become synonymous with "hell on earth" - Eastern Ghouta.

The Syrian opposition enclave outside Damascus has suffered from some of the heaviest bombing during Syria's seven-year war.

Recent assaults on the densely populated suburbs have seen the use of indiscriminate barrel bombs, napalm and poison gas.

Relentless waves of bombings over the past three weeks have killed at least 1,200 civilians.

It is a place of unimaginable brutality and heartbreak, one the UN has described as an orchestrated "apocalypse".

'Killer Jet'

For the travellers in London wearing colourful shirts, flip-flops and happy smiles, it was not the destination they had in mind.

On the tickets they hold, blood trickles down the logo of "KillerJet" - a reference to the CityJet airline that flies from the central London airport.

"We're here to protest CityJet's continued business with Sukhoi... the Russian state-owned arms manufacturer make the same planes that rain down death on children, women and men in Ghouta, Idlib and all over Syria," Amr Salahi, of Syria UK, announced to cameras outside City Airport. 

Syria activists in London City and Dublin airports said the shock protest was intended to highlight the relationship between the Irish airline and Russian state-owned aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi.
Syrian activists outside City Airport [Steve Eason]

Dressed in blood-red shirts, the activists explained to customers the scale of devastation caused by Russian air raids and how towns and villages in Eastern Ghouta have been reduced to rubble.

Among the aircraft likely leading the bombardment are those made by Sukhoi, which also manufacture some CityJet aircraft.

CityJet has ordered 15 Sukhoi SuperJets - possibly rising to 16, and has so far received six. It is already operating three of the aircraft as part of a wet-lease agreement with Brussels Airways, the Irish Independent reported.

Syria UK and the Irish-Syria Solidarity Movement are calling for a boycott of CityJet due to the airline's billion dollar deal with Moscow.

"We're asking people not to fly CityJet. We're asking people to be aware that CityJet is the leading [civilian] purchaser of Sukhoi aircraft, and we're asking people to be more aware of what the Russian regime has been doing in Syria over the past five years," said Batool Abdulkarim of Syria UK.

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of Eastern Ghouta

Civilian purchaser

Sukhoi has a long and valued relationship with the Russian and Syrian militaries. This was highlighted in February when two of its state-of-art Su-57 were showcased in Syria, flying into Russia's airbase in Latakia.

The (partially) stealth fighter is being trialled in Syria and Russian media said they have already performed "excellently" in Eastern Ghouta.

This is despite Moscow's official denial that Russian aircraft have taken part in the assault on the besieged opposition enclave. 

Such statements have become standard for the foreign ministry, when military actions might attract negative publicity for Russia.

We're asking people to be more aware of what the Russian regime has been doing in Syria
- Batool Abdulkarim, Syria UK

Sukhoi aircraft have been spotted flying above Eastern Ghouta, including Su-22 and Su-24 jets, which have been photographed dropping their payloads on towns below, Syria UK said.

Su-34 strike aircraft have also been recorded flying over the enclave at the peak of the assault on the Damascus countryside.

Syria UK said that Su-25 jets dropped 6,000 bombs on Syria during the first six months of Russia's intervention in the country, which began in September 2015.

Life under fire

Since then, Russia's air force has played a key role in the assaults on East Aleppo, Idlib and Eastern Ghouta.

Although it is impossible to know the aims of the generals with these ruthless campaigns, it is likely to be an effort to sap morale, destroy homes and infrastructure, test out new Russian weaponry, and kill.

Russia's air force has been accused by NGOs and activist groups of deliberately targeting schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure.

Eastern Ghouta is no exception, with hospitals and make-shift clinics all targets for the bombers.

Civilians have taken shelter in basements, living cramped, terrifying, nocturnal lives for weeks on end, as aircraft circle overhead.

Rescue workers continue to dig out bodies from levelled homes, some likely recovering the remains of their friends and loved ones.

The injured are treated by doctors and nurses who have worked tirelessly, day and night, over the past month.

A new offensive on Eastern Ghouta has endangered the lives of 5,000 more civilians trapped in the town of Hamuriyyeh.

Syria UK said it is up to the conscience of customers and airline executives if they want to play a role in the continued bloodshed. 

CityJet has yet to respond to a request for comment on this story.