Wednesday 18 July 2018

UN's Syria aid convoy reaches besieged Damascus suburb

Bashar Assad's government routinely blocks aid convoys from reaching areas opposed to its rule
Bashar Assad's government routinely blocks aid convoys from reaching areas opposed to its rule

The UN in Syria says it has delivered emergency food assistance to 40,000 people trapped in a government siege in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus.

The UN's humanitarian agency said it had reached the eastern Ghouta suburbs on Monday, with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, but that the relief does not cover even an eighth of the estimated 350,000 people in need.

Food supplies have withered in eastern Ghouta since the government retook two neighbourhoods in Damascus that were used to smuggle goods to rebel-packed suburbs in May.

President Bashar Assad's government routinely blocks aid convoys from reaching areas opposed to its rule. The last convoy to reach Ghouta arrived a month ago.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which operates across conflict lines, announced it had completed its measles vaccination campaign in Eastern Ghouta.

It said it had vaccinated 48,000 children over two drives, in May and October this year.

Photos of children gaunt with hunger in eastern Ghouta shocked observers last week, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called the siege "an outrage".

At least 11 people were killed by government shelling on Sunday, including on a kindergarten in the town of Kafr Batna.

"The people here do not want assistance, they want someone to break the blockade and stop the shelling.

"The relief we've received will not last for even a few days," said local activist Anas al-Dimashqi, who spoke to The Associated Press through WhatsApp messages.

The delivery coincided with the resumption of talks between the government, rebels, and their international sponsors Russia, Turkey, and Iran in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

It is the seventh round of talks since January this year, focused on "de-escalating" the six-year-long Syrian civil war - primarily by freezing the lines of conflict and allowing aid to flow to nearly a million Syrians trapped under siege.

Progress is being made at a snail's pace and the eastern Ghouta suburbs have seen conditions deteriorate in recent weeks.

Activists say local businessmen are hoarding food and medical supplies to raise prices, compounding the dire situation.

In Astana, Russia's envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev said his country was considering hosting intra-Syrian talks.

Russia is one of the so-called guarantors to the Astana agreements that mandate the unimpeded flow of aid to Ghouta and three other contested regions in Syria.

It is also one of Mr Assad's most steady military and diplomatic backers in the war.

State news agency RIA Novosti said a "Congress of National Dialogue" for Syria could be held in Sochi in mid-November.

The office of the UN's envoy to Syria Staffan De Mistura, who has been party to talks in Astana and Geneva, declined to comment on the possibility.

It said Geneva talks are slated to resume on November 28.

AP

Press Association

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