Syrian government bombardment 'holds up food aid in Daraya'
An international aid convoy has delivered food to the Damascus suburb of Daraya for the first time in nearly four years, but opposition activists said distribution of the aid had been held up amid a heavy air bombardment by government forces.
The opposition-held suburb of Daraya, south west of the Syrian capital, has been under siege by government forces since November 2012 and has witnessed some of the worst bombardments during the country's civil war, now in its sixth year.
Severe cases of malnutrition have been reported among its few thousand residents due to severe shortages of food and medicine.
The desperately needed delivery of food supplies by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the United Nations came hours after the UN said the Syrian government had approved access to 15 of the 19 besieged areas in Syria.
Last week, a joint convoy of the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross and SARC reached Daraya and delivered medicine, vaccines, baby formula and "nutritional items for children"- but no food.
The UN estimates there are 592,700 people living under siege in Syria, with the vast majority - about 452,700 people - besieged by government forces.
Lifting the siege on rebel-held areas was a key demand by the opposition during indirect peace talks in Geneva earlier this year.
SARC said the food delivery was co-ordinated with the United Nations in the Syrian capital. It said food, flour and medical supplies were delivered.
An opposition activist in Daraya said the government allowed minimal amounts of food stuff into the suburb to create problems between the starving residents.
"Nothing has been distributed so far and the barrel bombs are falling on the city," said media activist Muhannad Abu al-Zein. "They allowed in food stuff for a quarter of the families here."
The UN estimates that 4,000 to 8,000 people live in Daraya, which has been subject to a crippling government blockade since residents expelled security forces in the early stages of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the fighting, also reported air strikes on Daraya on Friday.
An official with the UN's World Food Programme said in a video posted online by media activists in Daraya that the WFP is delivering assistance to the suburb for the first time since 2012. He said the WFP had delivered about 480 food rations that would feed about 2,400 individuals for a month.
The WFP official said he had met some beneficiaries of the food aid and community leaders. "The supply of the very basic commodities is very challenging, so as a consequence the prices of the commodities themselves are very high whenever they are available," he said.
"As a result most families are having to do with one meal, which is not complete as a meal, per day in order to be able to get by," he said.
An amateur video posted online showed UN SUVs and white SARC trucks driving through sand barriers in the dark until they were met by opposition fighters.
Photographs posted online by activists in the suburb showed UN and SARC officials meeting local dignitaries and men removing WFP boxes from a white truck.
Among those joining the convoy into Daraya were the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, and Khawla Mattar, a spokeswoman for the UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, according to photographs posted by local activists.