Syria’s Eastern Ghouta targeted as aid convoy enters

Air strikes have hit Douma in Syria’s rebel-held Eastern Ghouta just after 13 trucks of food aid had crossed into the enclave, heading for the town, opposition activists and a monitor has said. 

The development came on Friday after an overnight pause in fighting encouraged the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to send the convoy in, that had previously been delayed due to violence.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) had previously said that the besieged enclave had witnessed no air strikes for the first time in the last 10 days. Shortly after the aid convoy crossed into the enclave on Friday, however, the monitor said air strikes had resumed.

Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Lebanese capital of Beirut, said on Friday that the aid was enough for 12,000 out of 400,000 people in the area.

“The ICRC are saying that they have positive indications that a bigger convoy will be allowed in the coming days,” she said, prior to the reports that air raids had resumed. 

“But it is unlikely to include any medical supplies, because the government does not want rebels to be treated.”

In less than two weeks, the Syrian army has retaken nearly all the farmland in Eastern Ghouta, under cover of near-ceaseless shelling and air strikes, leaving only a dense sprawl of towns – about half the enclave – still under rebel control.

SOHR on Friday said at least 931 civilians have been killed since February 18. According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), more than 1,000 people have been killed. 

‘Safe routes’

UN aid agencies have pleaded with the Syrian government and its ally, Russia, to halt the campaign and allow access.

Damascus and Moscow have both said the assault is needed to stop rebel shelling of Damascus.

The UN estimates that 400,000 people live in rebel-held areas of Eastern Ghouta. The government and Russia’s military have opened what they say are safe routes out of the enclave, but nobody has left yet.

Damascus and Moscow accuse the rebels of shooting at civilians to prevent them from fleeing the fighting into government areas.

Rebels deny this and say the area’s inhabitants have not crossed into government territory because they fear persecution.