Syria airstrikes halt UN emergency aid convoys to Daraa

Syria airstrikes halt UN emergency aid convoys to Daraa
Airstrikes in Syria have halted a UN aid convoy to war-torn Daraa, which is subject to horrendous bombardment by regime or Russian airstrikes.
4 min read
28 June, 2018
Dozens of civilians have been killed in the past two days of bombing [Anadolu]
Emergency UN aid convoys to the war-torn southern Syrian province of Daraa, from neighbouring Jordan, have been suspended following barrages of air strikes on the area.

Dozens of civilians have been killed in the past two days of bombing, after Russia and the Syrian regime stepped up their air attacks and shelling on Daraa, as part of an offensive on opposition territories in the southern province.

Barrages of bombing and shelling have forced the UN to halt supplies of urgently needed aid to Daraa residents and refugees from Jordan, due to security concerns, the body said.

"The extremely effective lifeline across the border from Jordan has been discontinued due to the fighting in recent days," the head of the UN's Syria humanitarian taskforce, Jan Egeland, told reporters in Geneva. 

No aid convoys had crossed the border from Jordan in the past two days, he said.

Russian airstrikes on the besieged opposition areas of southern Syria killed at least 22 civilians on Thursday, as the regime continues its offensive on Daraa province.

Three hospitals have been hit in recent days, forcing them to close their doors despite the huge number of injuries caused by the bombing.

Save the Children said that an educational facility run by the group was hit in an airstrike just hours after classes were suspended due to the violence.

Another school run by charity's partner organisation Olive Branch was also targeted, with the facility's security guard killed in the bombing.

"Children in southern Syria are facing terror and uncertainty, with heavy bombardment in some areas and thousands forced to flee. It's essential that civilians are protected and that explosive weapons are not used in populated areas, where children and the facilities they rely on are vulnerable to attack," said Sonia Khush, Save the Children Syria's response director.

"If the violence continues, we may be forced to suspend vital programming and see even more schools come under attack."

Most of those the bombing over the past 24-hours has been centered on the town of al-Mseifra, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor. 

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One airstrike on a basement in the town, sheltering families, killed 17 civilians, including five children.

At least 50,000 civilians have been displaced by bombing and shelling, as the Syrian regime - assisted by Russian airpower - carves out more territory in one of the last opposition strongholds in the country.

The UN has said 750,000 civilian lives are potentially at risk of the regime's offensive, particularly as Jordan has closed its northern border leaving Syrians trapped in the war zone.

"Tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing for their lives," Egeland said.

"[It is] heart wrenching, because this was a zone were people felt safe until just ten days ago," referring to the ceasefire which is supposed to cover the area.

Egeland said the airstrikes and shelling were "so intense" that the UN had failed to "reach sufficient agreements on safe passage for the convoys". 

He also appealed to Jordan to "keep its border open for people fleeing" to allow civilians to reach safety. "There is no other place to go," he added.

Bashar al-Assad's forces have made gains in the offensive as pro-fighters attempt to drive a wedge into Daraa, splitting parts of the opposition territories into two.

But rebel groups have fought hard, particularly around an air base close to the Jordan border, Reuters reported.

"The goal for them is to split the western Deraa countryside from the city and the eastern Deraa countryside. Praise God, so far the fighters are standing strong and the regime was not able to advance," said Abu Shaima, a rebel spokesman told the news agency.

Chief Syrian opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri has condemned "US silence" over the regime offensive, particularly as Russian-US-Jordanian brokered ceasefire is supposed to cover the area.

The US had warned it would take action if fighting broke out to protect civilians, but again have not lived up to their promises in Syria.

The UN has urged the US and Russia to urgently agree a ceasefire to end the offensive, but the regime appears determined to eat up the last opposition territories in southern Syria.

Agencies contributed to this story.