Aid finally reaches eastern Ghouta as assault strikes pause

A general view shows several destroyed buildings in Douma in the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta

Continued air strikes by Syrian regime forces have killed at least 19 civilians in the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta even as the United Nations body for children raised concerns over blocked delivery of aid to the war-torn region.

According to human rights groups, more than 900 civilians have been killed there in the last 18 days and the Red Cross has held back an aid convoy because of the intense fighting.

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.

Dozens of people, including many children, were treated overnight for breathing problems and symptoms that medics said were consistent with chlorine attacks, which Western powers have repeatedly warned would not go unpunished.

A correspondent in Hammuriyeh saw more than 40 people on the roof of a four-storey building on Wednesday, trying to get fresh air after strikes on their neighbourhood.

The ICRC said food and other supplies for 12,000 people were unloaded in Douma, the largest and most populous town in rebel-controlled eastern Ghouta.

But UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has said, in comments criticised by Syria's government, that the assault was "legally, and morally, unsustainable".

The convoy that reached Douma on Monday carried only a fraction of the relief needed for the estimated 400,000 people trapped under the government's siege.

In a letter last month to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the three main rebel factions in eastern Ghouta said they were committed to making al-Qaida-linked fighters and their families leave within 15 days.

Egeland also confirmed there are talks between the parties on the possible evacuation of fighters and civilians which he said aid workers are not party to.

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".

The trucks had been stuck at the Wafideen crossing the entire week, waiting to enter to deliver the remaining food parcels and flour bags. To many, the fighting was reminiscent of the fierce and final siege in Aleppo when government troops and a Russian-backed airstrike drove rebels from the Syrian city.

MSF also provides distance support to about 50 health facilities in areas of Syria where teams can not be directly present, including in eastern Ghouta.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today releases medical data collected from the hospitals and clinics it supports in Syria's besieged East Ghouta enclave.

On February 24, the UN Security Council in a unanimous vote approved the resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire across Syria to allow aid access to the population.

The rebels fired on the corridor between the town of Mlaiha and the rebel-held Jisreen area in Eastern Ghouta, said the report. The Syrians and Russia's military claimed to have opened safe routes to allow civilians to leave, but few if any are believed to have left. Indeed, there is reason to suspect that the Baathists' decision to release more than a 1000 Islamist radicals from prison when non-violent protests first broke out in 2011 was created to turn the revolution into a civil war against extremist Sunni "terrorists" that the regime would stand a chance of winning.

Turkey controls a swath of territory revolving around the town of al-Rai, al-Bab and Jarablus - a border zone that Turkey and Turkey-backed rebels took from ISIS in 2016.

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