U.N. aid convoy leaves Syria’s Eastern Ghouta amid continued bombardment

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Smoke rises from the besieged Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, February 27, 2018. REUTERS/ Bassam Khabieh

A United Nations convoy tasked to deliver urgently needed aid to the rebel-occupied Eastern Ghouta in Syria has discontinued its mission and evacuated the area as the Syrian government continued heavy bombardment in the enclave.

The convoy, which was the first to send humanitarian supplies to the area since mid-February, delivered as much as it could in the town of Douma before leaving after nearly nine hours.

However, the UN Refugee Agency said about 10 of the more than 40 trucks containing aid had not been emptied, as the Syrian government continued to carry out airstrikes in the area despite a supposed five-hour truce.

“We delivered as much as we could amidst shelling,” said UN Syria representative Sajjad Malik in a tweet, adding that “civilians are caught in a tragic situation.”

According to the Syrian Red Crescent, 46 truckloads of food parcels were delivered to 27,500, while health items were given to over 70,000 in Douma.

“The convoy is a positive first step and will lessen the immediate suffering of some civilians in the Eastern Ghouta region,” Robert Mardini, Middle East Director of International Committee of the Red Cross, said.

At least 719 people have been killed in Syria in recent weeks, many of them being children. The area of Eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus has been the target of bombardment for months, with attacks by the Syrian government and Russia escalating in February.

Last week, Russia called for a humanitarian corridor to be established so that civilians could escape the war zone and aid could be delivered. However, the airstrikes continued during the recent aid delivery, even along the humanitarian corridor.

An estimated 400,000 people are trapped in the war-torn area without food or medical supplies, as Eastern Ghouta continues to be hit by airstrikes, ground attacks, and alleged chemical weapon attacks.

Meanwhile, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad vowed to continue the government’s offensive. “We will continue fighting terrorism … and the Ghouta operation is a continuation of fighting terrorism,” he said in a statement aired on the country’s state television.