Thursday 13 December 2018

Syria aid convoy enters rebel-held eastern Ghouta

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the joint convoy was organised with the UN and the Syria Red Crescent Society.

Syrian civilians who fled the fighting (Sana/AP)
Syrian civilians who fled the fighting (Sana/AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

A convoy delivering aid to thousands of displaced Syrian families has entered the besieged rebel-held region of eastern Ghouta, as Russia announced an extended “humanitarian pause” in fighting.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the joint convoy organised with the United Nations and the Syria Red Crescent Society consists of 25 trucks.

The ICRC said: “This is just a little of what these families need.”

The convoy is heading for the town of Douma, the largest and most populated in eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus, according to Douma-based media activist Youssef Boustani.

Aid deliveries last week were mired in violence that disrupted its distribution, with shells slamming into the town as the aid workers were inside.

The Russian military said it had extended a “humanitarian pause” in fighting for two days in Douma.

The Defence Ministry claimed the pause on Thursday and Friday has allowed growing numbers of civilians to reach safety.

Major General Yuri Yevtushenko was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying 131 people left the area through the humanitarian corridor on Wednesday.

Major General Vladimir Zolotukhin said 100 people are expected to be evacuated on Thursday.

Syrian state-run TV and pro-government stations later showed footage of civilians streaming out of Hamouria, heading into government-held territory near the capital, Damascus.

The al-Ikhbariya TV and Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen and al-Manar channels said the civilians are eastern Ghouta residents whom government forces have “liberated” from rebel rule.

The broadcasts appeared to show hundreds of men, women, and children walking out of the town. Al-Mayadeen showed buses waiting to pick up civilians. Al-Ihkbariya says they will be taken to a centre for identification and relief.

ipanews_9686060e-6f90-4cc8-a09e-fd8d88dbecb4_embedded235421414
Syrian government soldiers during the battle against rebels in eastern Ghouta (Sana/AP)

The exodus is a major media victory for the Syrian government, and appears to be the largest departure of civilians from eastern Ghouta since the government launched a punishing assault on the rebel-held region more than three weeks ago.

Activists and monitoring groups said government and Russian forces were still blanketing the Ghouta region with air strikes and rocket fire.

They said government shelling and air strikes killed at least 20 civilians on Wednesday in eastern Ghouta.

The assaults come as Syria marked the seventh anniversary of the popular uprising that sparked the country’s vicious civil war.

ipanews_9686060e-6f90-4cc8-a09e-fd8d88dbecb4_embedded235501779
A Syrian government forces soldier helping a civilian who fled from fighting, at an army checkpoint in eastern Ghouta (SANA via AP)

The Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, said its first responders were not able to reach the wounded in towns in rebel-held eastern Ghouta because of the intensity of the assault.

It said one of its rescue workers was killed in an air strike in Hazeh on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a column of civilians trying to flee government advances in Hamouria were targeted with shelling early in the day that wounded several people.

It said 26 people were killed in Hamouria on Wednesday.

Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News