Syria: shelling jeopardizes delivery of aid to Ghouta

Ⓒ AFP – HAMZA AL-AJWEH – | Syrians in the midst of destruction in the city of Douma, in the rebel part of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, March 8, 2018

New bombardments of the regime on the rebel side of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus could jeopardize the delivery Friday of vital aid to the besieged inhabitants in this zone subjected to a devastating offensive for nearly three weeks.

More than 940 civilians, including about 200 children, have been killed since February 18 in the onslaught of pro-regime forces seeking to fully retake this last rebel stronghold at the gates of Damascus, Bashar al-Assad’s stronghold.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have called for the unhindered entry of medical equipment into the rebel enclave, denouncing a “terrible medical catastrophe”.

After an exceptionally quiet night in the rebel stronghold, a convoy of 13 trucks carrying food arrived in the morning, said the spokesman in Damascus of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Ingy Sedky.

This aid, which could not be delivered Monday because of the bombing, began to be distributed in Douma, main city of the enclave. Ms. Ingy expressed optimism about the distribution of medical equipment next week.

But bombardments that resumed late morning could endanger this distribution, warned the UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Ali al-Zaatari.

He reported a shelling near Duma despite “assurances of security provided by the parties including Russia”, allied country of the regime.

Twenty raids have targeted the localities of Jisrine and Duma, causing 20 injuries, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), while concordant sources have reported negotiations to end hostilities and allow the release of civilians or fighters from the enclave.

– Urgent need –

On Thursday, a delivery of aid had “not been allowed” by the regime “for security reasons,” according to the UN.

Ⓒ AFP – STRINGER – | 775138353

MSF denounced a “terrible medical catastrophe” in the rebel enclave. “The medical equipment is extremely limited, medical facilities have been hit by shelling and artillery fire and the medical staff is exhausted.”

Fifteen of the 20 hospitals and clinics supported by the organization were affected by the bombings, “further reducing their ability to provide medical care,” she said. “The need for massive medical replenishment is becoming more urgent.”

Thanks to their offensive, pro-regime forces have managed to recapture more than half of the enclave controlled by two rebel factions and besieged since 2013 by some 400,000 inhabitants who lack everything.

Russia, whose soldiers are on site in the Ghouta, announced 11 days ago a daily “humanitarian pause” of five hours to allow the exit of the civilians and the entrance of the help.

The official Syrian media has announced two new flights since Thursday, but no civilian sorties have been recorded.

– Negotiations –

According to the director of the OSDH, Rami Abdel Rahman, negotiations are under way to put an end to the hostilities in the Ghouta and allow the exit of civilians or combatants from the enclave.

Ⓒ AFP – LOUAI BESHARA – | Russian soldiers at an open crossing for the release of civilians from the beleaguered rebel enclave in Eastern Ghouta, March 8, 2018

The official Sana news agency reported “information on a planned exit later that day of dozens of civilians” via the al-Wafidine crossing.

A negotiator in Hammouriyé told AFP that a “civilian delegation” had left the locality “to negotiate with the regime to reach a settlement and an end to the fighting in Hammouriyé”.

“Enough destruction and death! We want to save our children and all those who have not died,” said Abu Ryad, 47.

Dozens of residents of Hammuriyé demonstrated with Syrian flags calling for an end to the fighting, according to the OSDH.

“We met people from Ghouta who expressed their wish to go out,” Nasser al-Maamari, a notable local tribe who spoke at the crossing of al-Wafidine, told reporters.

He estimated that there were “more than 300 Kafr Batna, Saqba and Hammouriyé families wishing to leave”, furthermore talking about “500 fighters to hand over their weapons to the army”.

Triggered by the repression of pro-democracy protests, the conflict in Syria has become more complex over the years with the involvement of regional and international actors and jihadist groups. He made more than 340,000 dead.

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