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Humanitarian Convoy for Syria's Eastern Ghouta Postponed

By VOA News March 08, 2018

The United Nations and International Red Cross said an aid convoy for the besieged eastern Ghouta area of Syria would go on as planned Thursday because of security concerns.

"The U.N. continues to receive reports of escalating fighting in East Ghouta and shelling on Damascus endangering civilians and preventing humanitarian assistance from reaching hundreds of thousands of people in need, including thousands of vulnerable children," said Linda Tom, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

A 46-truck convoy was able to bring some supplies to the Duma section of eastern Ghouta on Monday, but the U.N., ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent cut short that mission as deadly violence continued in the area.

Tom said 10 full trucks and four partial trucks were unable to be unloaded, including "half the food for 27,500 people."

"The U.N. remains ready to deliver assistance to all people in need in Duma, other areas in east Ghouta and other hard-to-reach and besieged areas as soon as conditions allow," she said.

Fighting in eastern Ghouta has escalated in recent weeks as the Syrian government, backed by Russian forces, boosted efforts to recapture the area it has held under siege since 2013. The violence has left hundreds of people dead, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says pro-government forces have effectively seized half of the territory held by the opposition.

Cease-fire ignored

The United Nations Security Council demanded a 30-day halt in fighting across Syria nearly two weeks ago in order to allow food and medical aid to reach those in need, but the resolution has been ignored.

Dutch Ambassador to the U.N. Karel van Oosterom, who holds the Security Council's rotating presidency, said the members called Wednesday for all parties in Syria to implement the cease-fire and expressed concern about the country's humanitarian crisis.

He spoke after a closed-door session requested by Britain and France.

"We've called this meeting with the U.K. because the Syrian regime, as we speak, keeps besieging and bombing its own citizens in eastern Ghouta in complete violation of Resolution 2401 that was unanimously adopted by the council," French U.N. representative Francois Delattre told reporters.

Sweden's representative to the U.N., Olof Skoog, demanded before the meeting "full and immediate implementation of the resolution" and "immediate progress on medical evacuations" from the area.

Council members are scheduled to discuss the implementation of the cease-fire again Monday when they meet with Secretary-General António Guterres.

US blames Russia

In a tweet Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert accused Russia of not being committed to the cease-fire.

"#Russia conducted 20 bombing missions in Damascus and Eastern #Ghouta the week of February 24. Now, Russia is also using #Syria to test SU-57 stealth fighter. So much for Russia's commitment to cease-fire, civilian safety, and humanitarian assistance. Astana has failed."

Russia's defense ministry said Tuesday that Syrian rebels, in addition to civilians, are free to use evacuation corridors to leave eastern Ghouta. Members of the opposition have said they will not leave.

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