Media attention has focused on the siege of rebel-held Eastern Aleppo, which began in summer 2016, and its reconquest by government forces in December 2016.1 The rebel enclave began to crumble in November 2016. Losing its stronghold in Aleppo would be a major strategic and symbolic defeat for the insurgency, and some supporters of the uprising may conclude that they have been defeated, though violence is unlikely to subside.
However, the Syrian government has also made major strides in another besieged enclave, closer to the capital. This area, known as the Eastern Ghouta, is larger than Eastern Aleppo both in terms of area and population—it may have around 450,000 inhabitants2—but it has gained very little media interest. One reason is that the political situation of the Eastern Ghouta is exceedingly complicated and difficult to parse. Despite a three-year army siege, ruthless shelling and airstrikes, and a sometimes very strict blockade on food and aid deliveries, discreet links have been maintained across the front lines. Even as they wage war on each other, certain progovernment and pro-opposition commanders remain connected through an informal wartime economy, muddling their political and military incentives and complicating any analysis of the situation.