UN to deliver aid to Syria's Eastern Ghouta as campaign continues

UN to deliver aid to Syria's Eastern Ghouta as campaign continues
The increase in violence in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta has left hundreds dead and hundreds more fleeing fearing for their lives.
3 min read
04 March, 2018
Over 640 have been killed in the regime's brutal escalation in Eastern Ghouta [Getty]

The United Nations hope to deliver needed humanitarian assistance on Monday to Syrians trapped in the besieged opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near the capital.

In a statement on Sunday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, announced that a convoy would enter the enclave consisting of "46 truckloads of health and nutrition supplies along with food for 27,500 people in need".

Ali al-Zaatari, the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Syria who will be leading Monday's operation, said: "We hope that the convoy may proceed as planned and will be followed by other convoys."

"Our teams on the ground are ready to do all that is needed to make this happen," Zaatari added.

Syrian regime forces continue to gain more ground in Eastern Ghouta, with a UK based war monitor reporting that Bashar al-Assad's forces have seized control of over a quarter of the rebel-held enclave after two weeks of devastating bombardment causing hundreds of civilians to flee.

The regime's advance into the last major opposition area near the capital came after 15 days of airstrikes, artillery fire and rocket attacks that have left more than 640 civilians dead and sent hundreds fleeing.

OCHA said the aid would be taken in to Eastern Ghouta by the UN and its partners, after they "received approval to deliver assistance for 70,000 people in need in the besieged enclave".

"The UN has received assurances that the remaining supplies for all approved people in need will be delivered on 8 March 2018," the statement added.

"The United Nations calls on all parties to facilitate unconditional, unimpeded, and sustained access to all people in need throughout the country," it added.

On Saturday, the UN passed a Syria-wide 30-day ceasefire, but violence has continued.

Meanwhile, Russia has instead called for a five-hour daily "truce" to allow residents to evacuate Eastern Ghouta and for aid to be delivered.

On Thursday, the US State Department called Russia's humanitarian plan a "joke," saying that residents did not trust the Russian truce plan.

No civilians have left, nor have any aid convoys been delivered to the area despite the Russian announcement.

While the air campaign has eased slightly, fighting on the ground only intensified. Neither the UN Security Council resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire, nor the Russian-imposed five-hour "humanitarian pause" have done much to improve the situation in the rebel-held region east of Damascus.

World leaders have expressed "grave concern" about the humanitarian situation. In a conversation with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the French President Emmanuel Macron said, "The UN convoys must immediately deliver medical assistance and food aid to the besieged population."

Macron also called on his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani to put the "necessary pressure" on the Syrian regime to halt "indiscriminate" attacks on civilians in Eastern Ghouta.

The UN's regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, also sounded the alarm on Sunday over the increase in violence.

"Instead of a much-needed reprieve, we continue to see more fighting, more death, and more disturbing reports of hunger and hospitals being bombed," he said.

"This collective punishment of civilians is simply unacceptable."

Eastern Ghouta has been under a devastating regime siege since 2013, leading to chronic food and medicine shortages which have brought its 400,000 residents to the brink of starvation.