Damascus, March 5 (IANS) A humanitarian aid convoy on Monday for the first time entered Eastern Ghouta, the besieged rebel-held enclave on the outskirts of Damascus, since an intense bombing campaign was launched against it by Syrian government forces a few weeks ago.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Syria said on Twitter that the convoy, which included UN and Red Crescent aid workers, had entered Douma, the largest city in the Eastern Ghouta region, with 46 truckloads of health and food supplies.
It is the first aid shipment to reach the besieged enclave since mid-February, despite a recent UN-backed ceasefire and short, daily truces ordered by Russia, the BBC reported.
At least 719 people have been killed, many of them children, since mid-February. Fourteen more civilians died in government airstrikes overnight, said activists.
Another 5,640 people had been injured in the Eastern Ghouta, an agricultural region east of Damascus, according to a local opposition-run health directorate.
Earlier in the day, the Russian Reconciliation Centre in Syria said the rebels in Eastern Ghouta pledged to allow civilians to leave that area in exchange for the entry of aid.
Neither the daily pause ordered by Russia — a key ally of Damascus — nor the ordering of a nationwide ceasefire by the UN Security Council has till now led to any humanitarian relief for the area where 400,000 people live.
The UN said that the “collective punishment of civilians was simply unacceptable”.
“Instead of a much-needed reprieve, we continue to see more fighting, more death, and more disturbing reports of hunger and hospitals being bombed,” UN regional humanitarian co-ordinator Panos Moumtzis said on Sunday.
Eastern Ghouta has been the major threat to Damascus since the rebels took hold in that area in 2012, with armed militants launching attacks on the capital with mortar shells and in some instance through implementing incursion attempts.
President Bashar al-Assad said on state television on Sunday that the offensive against “terrorism” should continue, and dismissed dire assessments of the humanitarian situation in the enclave as “ridiculous lies”.
He said he supported a Russian-sponsored daily truce of five hours, to allow “the majority of those in Eastern Ghouta” to escape the areas under the control of “terrorists”.
Meanwhile, the US had condemned the Syrian government assault and blamed Russia of killing innocent civilians in name of conducting counterterrorism operations.