March Raids on Damascus Cut Syrian Rebel Enclave’s Tunnel Economy

Shortages Grow as Trade With Capital Is Cut Off

In mid-March, a group of rebel factions
from the suburbs of the Syrian capital of Damascus attacked the city’s Jobar District, using tunnels to sneak into the area. This led to a flurry of anti-tunnel measures to prevent future infiltration from the suburbs.

Those weren’t just tunnels for rebel attacks, however, they were the economic lifeline of Eastern Ghouta, as the area, surrounded by government forces, used tunnels to carry out all trade with the capital. The tunnels are closed, and so is the trade.

Locals say that food is getting more scarce, and the price of fuel has risen precipitously in recent weeks, with cooking gas now said to cost almost 20 times as much in the rebel enclave as it does in the Syrian government’s territory. The rebels are presenting the anti-tunnel moves as attempts to “strangle” their economy.

Pro-rebel groups internationally are backing this narrative, though many took the exact opposite position in the Gaza Strip, endorsing Israel and Egypt in closing the “terror tunnels” that were likewise used not just in attacks, but in smuggling goods into a sieged area.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of

  • Bianca

    All they have to do is ask Al-Qaeda fighters and their families to get on busses to
    Idlib. They promissed to do that umpteen times before, and for that reason the tunnels were kept open. But instead of leaving well enough alone, Al-Qaeda took the advantage of tunnels to get in an commit attrocities. Now, enough is enough. Just a few hundred Al-Qaeda mercenaries are capable of controlling the population, force their youth to serve in their sick project. And Syrian government is supposed to look the other way, pamper them and insure they are well fed. Perhaps, now locals can have them packed off to Idlib, so the need for surrounding the area will be gone. But for as long as Al-Qaeda is supported from the theatrical western human rights games, only local population can oust them. Many protests against Al -Qaeda and outright popular rebellion againdt them were never reported. Good guys are Al-Qaeda terrorists — bad guys always government. In Syria, every human being is hoping to be liberated by the government from oppressive fundamentalist clans. It would be very instructive to have a map of Syria with clear identification of an area, a village or small settlements where the “rebels” rule with the support of population. At present, I am not aware of any such area. Even when the leaders of militant groups are LOCAL, without ISIS or Al-Qaeda — populace is sick and tired of their oppresive demands for recruits, money and food. Population KNOWS that those living in government controlled areas are living better, have better security, have jobs and their small business making ends meet. There is a wholesale realization that the rebellion has now everything to do with the political life of the leaders after the conflict. While rank and file have amnesty, leaders may not be this
    lucky. Hopefully some Arab country will take them and their families. When it comes to Idlib — Turkey will very likely control this safe zone. Much work will have to be done in order to transition to peace. The problem are extremists and their head chopping cults. It is hard to imagine what can be done with them and their families. Those people are not ready for civilian life, and any form of normal living. Idlib will remain a difficult task for whoever tackles it. And what is worse, very few countries are willing to criticize the cult — be that from fear of causing it to spread or fear from the cult underwriters.