Aid convoy enters besieged East Ghouta for first time in months

AMMAN: A convoy carrying food and medical supplies for more than 7,000 people entered East Ghouta on Wednesday, UN and local officials told Syria Direct, in the first aid delivery to the besieged, rebel-held pocket since the Syrian government escalated attacks on the enclave in December.

The joint Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and United Nations convoy carried 1,440 aid parcels containing basic food items and medical supplies, Muhammad Abu Saleh, a member of the local council in the East Ghouta town of Nashabieh, told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s aid delivery targets 7,200 residents of Nashabieh, Linda Tom, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) told Syria Direct via WhatsApp. UN staff accompanied the convoy and are “doing needs assessments” inside the pocket, she said.

An aid convoy enters East Ghouta on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Syrian Red Crescent.

East Ghouta is home to an estimated 400,000 residents who face food, medicine and fuel scarcities due to a government siege that began in 2013 and intensified last year.

Medical supplies such as painkillers were included in Wednesday’s convoy, but medications needed to treat chronic illnesses were not, according to local council member Abu Saleh.

The aid parcels delivered “are not sufficient for more than 10 percent” of Nashabieh’s population, he said, adding that the town and its surrounding area are home to 11,000 families.

The last aid delivery to East Ghouta took place on November 28, UNOCHA spokeswoman Tom said. One month later, on December 29, government forces launched an ongoing offensive on East Ghouta that has claimed hundreds of civilian lives.

Aid is distributed in East Ghouta on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Taym a-Sayoufi.

The offensive came despite East Ghouta’s status as one of four “de-escalation” zones across the country in a Russian- and Iranian-brokered deal announced last May.

As nine aid trucks entered the al-Wafideen crossing into East Ghouta Wednesday afternoon, a group of local activists demonstrated while wearing gas masks in protest of recent alleged chemical attacks. At least three alleged chlorine gas attacks took place in East Ghouta since the start of the year.

A video of the protest posted online Wednesday shows UN flags laid out on the ground underneath the incoming aid trucks.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.

Avery Edelman

Avery Edelman graduated from Tufts University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in Arabic and International Relations.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013.

Amani al-Khaldi

Amani is from Homs and fled the war in Syria in 2013. In Jordan, she studied business management and volunteered for a number of organizations that provide refugees with assistance. She joined the Syria Direct to develop her journalism skills and follow her passion for the field.