Syria: Medical supplies 'rejected' from eastern Ghouta aid convoy

5 March 2018, 08:04

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid to civilians have arrived in eastern Ghouta without life-saving medical items after Syrian government officials stripped some of them of trauma kits and surgical supplies.

The UN said the 46-vehicle inter-agency convoy had begun to enter the besieged rebel-held suburbs on Monday, with the World Health Organisation and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent among those to have helped send enough aid for thousands of desperate people.

But with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reporting that more than a third of the region is now under government control, security officials are said to have rejected some of the supplies.

"All trauma kits, surgical, dialysis sessions and insulin were rejected by security," a WHO official said, adding that 70% of the items on three trucks had been removed during the inspection.

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Approval had been granted to the UN and its partners on Sunday to deliver the supplies to the city of Dhouma during a planned daily ceasefire period agreed to by Russia, allowing residents to leave the region on the edge of the capital Damascus and allow aid in.

It is the first humanitarian convoy sent to eastern Ghouta since a far smaller delivery in mid-February and includes food, health and nutrition supplies.

The UN said there was enough food for 27,500 people in need.

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Aid was meant to be delivered to eastern Ghouta last week during the first planned "humanitarian pause" in airstrikes, agreed by Vladimir Putin, but the first attempt at a ceasefire was branded a farce.

Fighting continued between the rebels - who still hold most of the region - and the Russian-backed Syrian government, meaning no civilians were able to leave and the planned convoy was blocked from entering.

President Bashar al Assad vowed on Sunday to continue his campaign to secure what is the biggest remaining opposition stronghold, despite SOHR reporting more than 700 people have been killed during a fortnight of intense bombardment.

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Eastern Ghouta is home to 400,000 people and has been under siege by government forces since 2013, with the last two weeks having seen the deadliest assaults.

The UN Security Council wants to introduce a wider 30-day ceasefire in the region, but it has not yet been agreed.

Save the Children has said the promise of a ceasefire "must become a reality", having been unable to deliver blankets and warm clothing to suffering residents.

"Hundreds of people need to be evacuated to receive life-saving medical treatment after at least two dozen health facilities were attacked or damaged in the fighting," said Sonia Khush, the charity's response director in Syria.

"Children are paying the heaviest price. When will the world sit up and take notice?"

The White House reiterated its condemnation of the bombardment of eastern Ghouta on Sunday, describing the airstrikes as the killing of innocents "under the false auspices of counter-terrorism operations".

In comments broadcast by state television, President Assad dismissed accusations about the situation as "a ridiculous lie".