-- An international humanitarian aid convoy has finally been able to get into a besieged suburb of Damascus that has been surrounded and virtually cut off by Syrian government forces.
Forty-six truckloads of food and medical aid, amounting to food for 27,500 people and health items for 70,000 were brought in through efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations World Food Program and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, according to a press release by the Red Crescent.
Among the supplies are specialized nutrition for malnourished children, general medical items, equipment for kidney treatment and nourishment for babies.
The relief convoy marks the first time in four months that the World Food Program and its partners have been able to reach the area of Douma in the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta, the U.N. agency said.
The enclave has been surrounded by Syrian government forces since 2013 and has endured what the World Food Program said is "tremendous suffering, with over 400,000 people there experiencing severe shortages of food, fuel, medicine and drinking water."
“A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in eastern Ghouta where raging violence has paralyzed our response and our ability to reach families who desperately need help,” says Jakob Kern, the World Food Program representative in Syria.
“The longer eastern Ghouta is deprived of the necessities of life, the more people will die. We appeal to all parties to allow the ongoing and safe delivery of aid to all people in need, no matter where they are,” Kern said.
The convoy was supposed to enter Ghouta on Sunday, but was held up by Syrian government forces.
A source at the World Health Organization told Reuters that government security forces removed 70 percent of the organization's truckloads - taking out trauma kits, surgical kits and insulin.
Battle for control of eastern Ghouta has continued unabated, despite an order by Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, for a "humanitarian pause," according to people on the ground there.
The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen who is in Damascus tweeted "Syrian armed forces heavy gun is firing steadily close by, I can hear the impacts hitting inside the enclave. UN's 30 day ceasefire is nowhere." State news agency SANA reports that Ghouta armed factions have shelled a military hospital, injuring some critically.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said when briefing a small group of journalists on Sunday that his forces' push to take control of the area would continue while respecting humanitarian pauses to allow civilians to leave the area.
Over the weekend, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that regime-affiliated forces advanced over about 25 percent of Ghouta, nearing their goal of cutting it in half. Their advance occurred in thinly-populated rural farm areas.
The armed factions opposing the regime forces have meanwhile retreated into more densely-populated urban areas, where military observers expect the fight to be much tougher and slow going for both sides.
The World Food Program and partners are planning another convoy this Thursday to supplement the supplies already distributed today and provide food for a total of 70,000.