Convoy delivers food to Syria's besieged Ghouta amid shelling

Posted March 11, 2018

The Syrian army intensified its onslaught in eastern Ghouta on Saturday with advances that a war monitor and state media said had splintered the enclave, though a rebel official denied this.

The limited operation came as the powerful Jaish al-Islam said HTS fighters would be evacuated to the northern province of Idlib, in an arrangement struck following consultations with the United Nations and other global players.

Eastern Ghouta's 400,000 inhabitants have lived under government siege since 2013 and the enclave - more than half of which has over the past three weeks been retaken by government forces - is home to numerous armed groups.

An aid convoy crossed into the embattled rebel-held suburbs of Damascus Friday, delivering desperately needed aid despite heavy fighting that broke out "extremely close" to the convoy and renewed air strikes by the Syrian regime.

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The food was supposed to be delivered on Monday when a previous convoy entered Douma, but fighting forced it to leave early without unloading fully.

During the February attack pro-regime forces using tanks and artillery fired on a Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters where U.S. Special Operations Forces were present.

At least 215 children are among those killed since then, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad have essentially split off Douma from the rest of eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a day after a Red Cross and United Nations aid convoy arrived in the town to unload food supplies to thousands of civilians in desperate need. The group said the data were collected from 10 medical facilities that it fully supports and another 10 facilities it provides with emergency medical donations inside the eastern Ghouta enclave.

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The cease-fire endorsed more than a week ago by the United Nations Security Council - but not yet implemented - does not cover H.T.S., a coalition of rebel forces led by the Nusra Front, a group that was formed as Al Qaeda's Syria affiliate and is listed internationally as a terrorist group. Reaching them would physically cut northern parts of eastern Ghouta from its southern parts.

"We came because of the intensity of the bombing", said Abu Mohammed, a 32-year-old famer who had left his cows, sheep and farm equipment to join thousands of others fleeing to Douma, further into the rebel enclave. The roads connecting the towns to each other were all covered by army fire, the Observatory said.

They are now seeking to cut off Douma from rebel-held territory further south, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Residents will have to rely on unpaved roads to move in eastern Ghouta, but that is hard because of the intensity of shelling and airstrikes, activists said.

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