Eastern Ghouta has been under a Syrian government siege since 2013 [File: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters]
An international aid convoy has delivered food and humanitarian supplies to a besieged, rebel-held area near Damascus, the first such distribution to reach Syria‘s Eastern Ghouta since late November.
The convoy delivered supplies to “over 7,000 civilians for a month” in the town of Nashabiyah, about 19km east of Damascus, on Wednesday, said Jakob Kern, Syria country director with the United Nations World Food Programme.
“We need much more such convoys. Fighting has to stop to deliver much needed aid to all civilians in need,” Kern said on Twitter.
Nine aid trucks delivered food parcels, flour, medicine, nutritional aid and medical supplies, said the Syrian Red Crescent, which helped organise the convoy.
About 400,000 people have been living under a government-imposed siege in Eastern Ghouta, an opposition-held area east of the Syrian capital, since 2013.
Local residents, half of whom are reportedly children, are suffering from a severe lack of food, medicine and medical supplies, which has crippled local hospitals.
#Breaking: #Humanitarian aid to #Eastern_Ghouta@SYRedCrescent w/@UN delivering #aid convoy (9 Trucks) to Al-Nishabieh in #Rural_Damascus, #Syria
The convoy carried relief items of #food parcels, #flour, #nutrition, #medicines and #medical materials for 1440 #family there. pic.twitter.com/z7zOe1nKXw
— Syrian Red Crescent (@SYRedCrescent) February 14, 2018
While the area is one of a handful of “de-escalation zones” – in which opposition and government forces had promised to limit fighting under an internationally brokered deal last year – scores of people have been killed in Eastern Ghouta in February amid heavy Syrian state and Russian bombardments.
Almost 200 people were killed in Eastern Ghouta and Syria’s northern Idlib province in only four days earlier this month.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from UN headquarters in New York, said while the convoy delivered “desperately needed aid”, the residents of Eastern Ghouta “require a lot more than one convoy because they have been cut off for so long”.
“Aid supplies to besieged areas in Syria have been a continuing problem [for] the UN trying to get them in. Often, when there are aid trucks allowed in, supplies are taken from the trucks by the Syrian government,” Bays said.
Privately, international diplomats have questioned the timing of the aid delivery, Bays reported, with some calling it a “pretty cynical” move on the part of the Syrian government, which was seeking to alleviate pressure ahead of a meeting of the UN Security Council.
“We’ve seen this pattern before, allowing a small amount of aid in, to reduce the pressure around the council table,” Bays said.
The UNSC met on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing war in Syria and the increasingly complicated political situation playing out in the country.
Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy to Syria, said the situation in Syria is the most “violent, dangerous and worrying” he has seen over the past four years.
In January, Turkey launched a military offensive in Afrin, a Kurdish-held region in northern Syria, in an effort to root out Kurdish YPG fighters from the border area.
While Turkey views the YPG as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long war with Ankara, the YPG has been an ally of the United States in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
That has led to an increasingly tense relationship between the US and Turkey.
Meanwhile, this month has also seen a surge in Syrian and Russian air strikes on rebel-held areas of the country and cross-border confrontations between Syrian state forces and the Israeli military.
Syrian forces reportedly shot down an Israeli jet on February 10. The aircraft was returning from bombing an Iran-backed site in Syria after Israel said an Iranian drone entered its air space earlier in the day.
Israel later retaliated further by shelling what it said were a dozen Syrian and Iranian targets inside the country.
“What we are seeing in Syria today not only imperils the de-escalation arrangements and regional stability, it also undermines the efforts for a political solution,” de Mistura said on Wednesday.
Francois Delattre, France’s ambassador to the UN, also told reporters “all the ingredients are present if we do nothing about it, urgently, for a major regional and international confrontation” in Syria.