Aid Convoy Enters Damascus Suburbs

Aid Convoy Enters Damascus Suburbs

BEIRUT (AP) -- Desperate for food and basic medicines, many of the besieged and bombarded Syrian civilians in Damascus' eastern suburbs of Ghouta waited on Monday as a 46-truck convoy organized by the United Nations and key aid agencies began entering the rebel-held enclave.

The U.N.'s humanitarian office said the convoy with health and nutrition supplies, along with food for 27,500 people in need, entered the town of Douma in the besieged eastern Ghouta. In a Twitter posting, it said however that many life-saving health supplies were not allowed to be loaded.

The delivery would be the first to the region in nearly three weeks. U.N. officials had said lack of approvals and consensus among the warring parties, as well as the limited duration of a daily, five-hour Russian-ordered humanitarian pause, had made aid delivery impossible.

Pawel Krzysiek of the International Committee of the Red Cross said earlier that the inter-agency convoy had arrived in Wafideen, a key crossing point set up by the Syrian government for civilians wishing to leave eastern Ghouta and also for aid to enter the enclave.

"Feels like racing with time," Krzysiek said in a tweet. Eastern Ghouta, home to some 400,000 people, has been under a crippling siege and daily bombardment for months. More than 600 civilians have been killed in the last two weeks alone

Tarik Jaserevic, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, also said that during Monday's obligatory routine inspection conducted by Syrian authorities, many of the supplies in the WHO shipment were rejected — including all trauma, surgical, dialysis kits and insulin.

The only U.N. delivery of assistance to eastern Ghouta so far this year was on Feb. 14, when a convoy with assistance for 7,200 people reached Nashabiyah, a town in the suburbs.

The Syrian government, meanwhile, said it achieved "significant" progress in its ongoing military operation in rebel-held suburbs east of Damascus, seizing around 36 percent of the total area held by different armed groups.

Syria's Central Military Media said troops continued their advance from the east and were only 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from meeting up with troops advancing from the west, which would cut eastern Ghouta into two parts.

Monday's announcement came a day after troops recaptured Nashabiyah and a number of villages and farms in eastern Ghouta in the largest advances since the government's wide-scale operation began last month.

In Geneva, the U.N.'s top human rights body on Monday called for U.N.-mandated investigators for Syria to conduct an urgent and targeted probe of the recent violence in eastern Ghouta.

The Human Rights Council adopted a resolution proposed by Britain instructing its Commission of Inquiry on Syria, created six-and-a-half years ago, to conduct a "comprehensive and independent inquiry into the recent events" in eastern Ghouta and report back at the next council session in June.

The resolution also threw the council's support behind a Security Council resolution passed last month, calling for a 30-day cease-fire across Syria to allow humanitarian aid in and to evacuate the sick and injured.

(KA)