Vital humanitarian aid flows into besieged Syrian towns – UN, ICRC

A convoy carrying humanitarian goods wait to enter the besieged area of Moudamiya Al Sham in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria February 17, 2016. © Omar Sanadiki
Humanitarian relief convoys have entered crisis-stricken Damascus suburbs under the supervision of the Red Crescent and the UN, becoming the first international aid deliveries since world powers agreed on a ceasefire plan starting Friday.

A 35-lorry convoy carrying food and medicine entered Muadamiyat al-Sham, a town 10 kilometers southwest of Damascus, on Wednesday. According to the NGO and an RT Arabic crew on the ground, the lorries are loaded with produce, medical supplies and milk. From Damascus some 100 trucks left to other parts of Syria carrying food, non-food items, medical equipment and medicine.

The UN humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo said that supplies were also sent to Madaya and Zabadani. Ahmad al-Najem, coordinator of field operations at Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) told the state-run Syrian news agency SANA that 59 trucks loaded with 15,600 flour bags and about 4,100 food rations in addition to medicines are on their way there. Muhannad al-Asadi of SARC also told the Syrian agency that that a mobile clinic entered Madaya on Wednesday.

Another mobile clinic will also be sent to al Fu’ah and Kafarya, in northwestern Idlib province to treat the critically wounded, the RT team reports on the ground. Al-Najem confirmed to SANA that a convoy of humanitarian aid including 18 trucks containing various food aid and 8,000 flour bags in addition to a medical team headed there.

The population of these two towns is estimated by humanitarian organizations to be up to 20,000 people. The area is under siege of Jaish al-Fatah (the Army of Conquest) – a coalition of Islamist militant groups loosely affiliated with Al-Qaeda, according to SANA. 

The UN has confirmed that the aid arrived to five towns in Syria to cater for the needs of thousands suffering from the years of armed conflict.

“The convoys contained life-saving aid including food, medical supplies and equipment, vaccines, water and sanitation items for almost 100,000 people in need of aid,” Yacoub el-Hillo said in a press release.

“This is hopefully the beginning of the end of Syrian civilians’ suffering,” he added, saying that the next step for the UN is to hold discussions in Geneva on Thursday that will be co-chaired by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura who has recently returned from Syria and confirmed the flow of international aid by telephone to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“Humanitarian delivery is not only important, it is essential,” de Mistura stressed. “There are now more than 400,000 people living in areas besieged by the government, by the opposition and by Daesh.”

The purpose of the Geneva meeting, the UN announced is to “further take stock of the status of humanitarian access to besieged areas with an initial focus on the locations referred to in the statement of the International Syria Support Group last week.”

 On his visit to Syria, Mistura stressed that aid deliveries would serve as a “test” of the government’s commitment to allowing relief to besieged areas ahead of Friday’s planned truce that was agreed in Munich last week.

“It is the duty of the government of Syria to want to reach every Syrian person wherever they are and allow the UN to bring humanitarian aid,” he said in Damascus on Tuesday.

Mistura’s comment sparked criticism from Damascus which rejected the idea of testing or somehow linking its fundamental humanitarian duty to any peace talks.

Meanwhile the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the air force is working with a UN mission to “provide airdrops of emergency food supplies and life-saving items to the besieged areas,” as part of the Munich agreement. The final details on daily air drops are being finalized with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

At the same time the statement praised Damascus commitment to international efforts to deliver aid to besieged populace, calling it “an extremely important step.” Moscow hopes that the international community will “duly appreciate” Damascus’ cooperation, and called on other nations to influence other factions in Syria to make sure that the aid reaches its destination.