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Aid Convoys Reach Syria's Eastern Ghouta, but Attacks on Rebels Continue

By VOA News March 05, 2018

An international convoy of humanitarian aid trucks has reached besieged eastern Ghouta, in Syria, but government forces continue their aerial bombardment and ground assault against the rebel enclave.

The United Nations and International Red Cross said Monday 46 trucks ferried in health and nutrition supplies, along with food for 27,500 people. But the Syrian government blocked the rescue workers from loading 70 percent of the health supplies they had planned to transport to the embattled region, including trauma, surgical and dialysis kits, insulin and other items.

It was the first aid shipment to reach the area outside Damascus since mid-February, when a deadly Russian-backed assault began on the rebels, branded as "terrorists" by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.N. Security Council's demand for a 30-day cease-fire has yet to take hold, with Assad and his allies claiming the truce does not apply to the attacks on eastern Ghouta.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 45 people were killed and 190 injured Monday in the latest attacks, even as the aid was arriving. That pushed the death toll to 740 in the last three weeks.

Syrian troops have reclaimed a third of eastern Ghouta, according to the Observatory, and are advancing further in an apparent attempt to split the rebel stronghold in two. The Observatory said one airstrike hit the region a kilometer away from where aid trucks were being unloaded.

The United Nations says 400,000 people are trapped in besieged eastern Ghouta.

Assad vowed Sunday to continue the assault, telling journalists, "The operation against terrorism must continue, while at the same time, civilians will continue to have the possibility" to evacuate from the war zone.

"There is no contradiction between a truce and combat operations," he said. "The progress achieved yesterday and the day before in Ghouta by the Syrian Arab Army was made during this truce."

In comments aired on state television, Assad dismissed Western complaints about a humanitarian crisis in eastern Ghouta as "a ridiculous lie."

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week ordered a daily five-hour "humanitarian pause" in the fighting to allow people to to escape eastern Ghouta, but it does not appear anyone has left.

US, British reaction

U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed Sunday that Russia and Syria are responsible for the "heart-breaking human suffering" in eastern Ghouta, May's office said.

They discussed in a telephone call what May's office described as the "appalling humanitarian situation."

"They agreed it was a humanitarian catastrophe, and that the overwhelming responsibility for the heart-breaking human suffering lay with the Syrian regime and Russia, as the regime's main backer," May's office said.

A White House statement did not mention the phone call, but said Russia was ignoring the U.N. resolution demanding the 30-day cease-fire across Syria. The statement said Russia, which voted for the resolution, is killing innocent civilians under the "false auspices of counterterrorism operations."

"This is the same combination of lies and indiscriminate force that Russia and the Syrian regime used to isolate and destroy Aleppo in 2016, where thousands of civilians were killed.," the statement said.

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