The streets in eastern Ghouta, a small rebel-held enclave near the Syrian capital of Damascus, were filled with gray, ashy dust on Tuesday as aid workers pulled bodies, both dead and alive, from the rubble.
Tragic as it may be, the scene is nothing new in a country which has been in constant civil war for nearly seven years. It was the result of yet another bombardment from the Syrian government which has become sadly typical. However, this particular attack was not supposed to happen, considering a ceasefire was in order. The United Nations Security Council had agreed to a thirty day ceasefire just days earlier on Saturday, while Russia, a key Syrian ally, was engaged in a self-imposed five hour pause in fighting. Both were nothing more than diplomatic symbols, which did nothing to prevent the suffering of civilians on the ground.
"There is no drinking water, we try our best to give children a little bit to drink, we eat once a day or we don't eat at all," one woman in Ghouta told CNN. She is one of many who are sheltering underground from the constant bombardment. The dark tunnels have become the last refuge from the artillery strikes and bombs.
Some civilians venture out during the occasional pauses to forage for food and water, risking sniper fire and getting caught up in the next explosion. Meanwhile, aid workers known as the White Helmets run towards the fire, searching for victims among the rubble and decrepit buildings that have come to characterize many towns in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government insists that it is targeting terrorists in Ghouta. It's ally Russia, which holds veto power in the UN Security Council, has historically provided diplomatic cover for the Assad regime. While it did not veto the ceasefire, Russian diplomats have been blamed for delaying it.
"All of us on this council must do our part to press the Assad regime as hard as we can to comply. But we are late to respond to this crisis, very late," said Amb. Nikki Haley after the ceasefire resolution was passed. She pointed the finger at Russia for stalling efforts to pass a ceasefire earlier. In response, Russian officials have denied civilians have been targeted and have towed the Assad line on terrorists inhabiting Ghouta.
Moscow's five hour ceasefire was meant to provide humanitarian aid and give civilians a chance to leave the area. But one of the few government controlled checkpoints surrounding Ghouta did not see any civilians cross over, as many fear reprisals from the Assad regime. Ambulances and trucks carrying aid were also prevented from exiting and entering the area. It is unclear if government forces, rebels or both are preventing any movement.
The UN has reported barrages coming from both sides during the ceasefire. The situation on the ground makes it difficult to determine which actors may be to blame. In addition to the rebel Free Syrian Army and Assad's government forces, there are also a litany of Islamist militias and various other groups with their own agendas. Iran and Russia continue to prop up Assad, while Turkey continues to battle Kurdish forces in the country's northern reaches near Afrin.
The conflict has no clear end in sight, as death tolls continue to grow. More than 500 are believed to have been killed in Ghouta in the last two weeks alone, while the total death toll from the Syrian civil war is more than 470,000.