Rebel-held Suburbs of Damascus: Resilience Mechanisms in the Face of Chemical Attacks

Numerous witness accounts described the chaos and panic as people responded to the chemical attacks of 21 August 2013 on East and West Ghouta in Rif Dimashq province (outside Damascus). Nevertheless, the rebel-held towns did not succumb to the regime invasion which followed the chemical attacks, mobilising a response to the humanitarian crisis and saving the lives of hundreds of people.

Based on interviews with witnesses and local activists, this paper by Ilina Angelova describes how in the aftermath of the chemical attacks, initiatives of self-governance proliferated, evolving from coordination committees into city councils with various degrees of complexity and organization. City councils, which had disappeared with the collapse of state-run municipal services after the rebellion took control in summer 2012, were created or strengthened in most of the areas affected by the chemical attacks. Between August 2013 and April 2014, in the areas where those councils developed more extensively, the civilian opposition managed to better respond to the medical, food and infrastructure needs of the population. This insightful paper illustrates the evolution of these civilian administration initiatives and their effects on the resilience of the population in rebel-held towns targeted by chemical attacks.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.