Food aid convoy enters Syria’s eastern Ghouta as assault pauses
BEIRUT (Reuters) – An emergency aid convoy crossed front lines into the besieged rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta on Friday, Red Cross officials said, as a war monitor reported a pause in Syrian government air strikes backing a massive ground assault.
In less than two weeks, the Syrian army has retaken nearly all the farmland in eastern Ghouta under cover of near ceaseless shelling and air strikes, leaving only a dense sprawl of towns – about half the enclave – still under insurgent control.
The onslaught has killed more than 1,000 people, the medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Thursday. The war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on Friday gave a death toll of 931 civilians in the campaign.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the aid convoy passed through front lines and was heading to the enclave’s biggest town, Douma. No further details were immediately available.
The convoy comprised 13 trucks with food parcels that could not be delivered on Monday because of heavy fighting, the ICRC said earlier in a tweet. The ICRC was also preparing additional supplies, including medical material, to be sent in a bigger convoy next week.
“The situation is relatively good today. The bombing eased for a bit and is no longer intense,” said Bilal Abu Salah, a resident of Douma. But he added that shortages are still acute, causing great hardship. “Entire families eat one meal in several days,” he said.
UN aid agencies have pleaded with the Syrian government and its ally Russia to halt the campaign and allow access.
Damascus and Moscow have both said the assault is needed to stop rebel shelling of Damascus and to end the rule of Islamist insurgents over civilians in eastern Ghouta.
The United Nations estimates that 400,000 people live in rebel-held areas of eastern Ghouta. The government and Russia’s military have opened what they say are safe routes out of the enclave, but nobody has left yet.
Damascus and Moscow accuse the rebels of shooting at civilians to prevent them fleeing the fighting into government areas. Rebels deny this and say the area’s inhabitants have not crossed into government territory because they fear persecution.
The Observatory said there had been no air strikes on eastern Ghouta’s towns overnight for the first time since the government ground offensive began around 10 days ago, and there were only intermittent battles on the front lines.