Convoy delivers food to Syria’s besieged Ghouta amid shelling

BEIRUT,  (Reuters) – A convoy of relief trucks crossed front lines into the rebel-held Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta on Friday and unloaded all its food to the trapped population, despite fighting that the Red Cross said had come “extremely close”.

The Syrian government’s two-week onslaught in eastern Ghouta has killed around 950 civilians, the war monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

For eastern Ghouta’s civilians, mostly trapped underground with little food or water, the choice of whether or not to emerge to seek supplies may be one of life or death.

“People were hopeful after the bombardment decreased and went out onto the streets,” said Moayad al-Hafi, a man in the Ghouta town of Saqba. “But then air strikes began again, and there are still people under the rubble that we couldn’t get out.”

Syria and its main ally Moscow have both said the assault is needed to stop rebel shelling of nearby Damascus and end the rule of Islamist insurgents over civilians in eastern Ghouta, where some 400,000 people live.

But U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has said, in comments criticised by Syria’s government, that the assault is “legally, and morally, unsustainable”.

There was a pause in the government’s bombardment overnight, but air strikes and shelling quickly resumed after the convoy carrying food parcels crossed into eastern Ghouta, according to residents and the Observatory.

Syrian state television and a witness later said bullets and mortars were fired from inside the rebel enclave at the al-Wafideen crossing point, through which the convoy had entered.

“Shelling in proximity of Douma (in) eastern Ghouta today is putting the … convoy at risk,” said U.N. resident coordinator Ali al-Za’tari said.

He said the fighting had resumed “despite assurances of safety from parties including the Russian Federation”.

Robert Mardini, Middle East director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said it had been “taken aback by the fighting that broke out despite guarantees.”

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