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‘Syrian government shelling’ halts rare aid delivery to eastern Ghouta

The suburb suffered its worst day of violence since the UN Security Council demanded a 30-day ceasefire.

The first aid delivery in weeks to reach the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus was cut short after Syrian government forces began shelling while aid workers were still in the area, a local council said.

Aid trucks had to leave before they could finish unloading supplies on Monday, as the eastern Ghouta suburbs suffered their worst day of violence since the UN Security Council demanded a 30-day ceasefire.

The Syrian American Medical Society charity, which supports hospitals in eastern Ghouta, said 79 people were killed in shelling and air strikes amid a renewed escalation in the government’s aerial and ground campaign

The government, supported by Russia’s military, is pushing its assault on the rebel-held suburbs where the UN estimates almost 400,000 people are trapped under unmanageable levels of violence.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 80 civilians were killed on Monday.

The Security Council resolution, passed unanimously on February 25, has gone unheeded.

Monday’s aid shipment was the first to enter eastern Ghouta amid weeks of a crippling siege and a government assault that has killed close to 800 civilians since February 18.

Aid agencies said Syrian authorities removed basic health supplies, including trauma, surgical kits and insulin, from the convoys before they set off.

The International Committee for the Red Cross also confirmed that its joint convoy with the UN had to leave before offloading all its supplies because of the deteriorating security situation.

Ingy Sedky, the ICRC spokeswoman in Syria, said most of the aid from a 46-truck convoy was delivered to the town of Douma in eastern Ghouta but the mission was cut short before the rest of the supplies could be unloaded.

Iyad Abdelaziz, a member of the Douma Local Council, said nine aid trucks had to leave the area after government shelling and air strikes intensified in the evening.

Air strikes continued on Tuesday. The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence search-and-rescue group reported at least nine people killed in the town of Jisreen, eastern Ghouta.

The group, also known as the White Helmets, added that two of its volunteers and 28 others suffered difficulties breathing following shelling on the town of Hammouriyeh on Monday evening. It accused the government of using “poison gas”.

The Observatory reported 18 people suffered breathing difficulties, without attributing a cause.

It was the eighth allegation of chlorine gas use reported by the Syrian American Medical Society this year. The reports could not be independently confirmed, and Russia used its Security Council veto to freeze the work of a UN body investigating such reports earlier this year.

The allegations could provoke a response from Washington, which says it could take military action against the Syrian government for continued chemical weapons use against its own people.

The Syrian government, through the Sana state news agency, denied using chemical weapons in its eastern Ghouta offensive.

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Russia’s Defence Ministry said it was extending an offer to allow armed rebels to leave eastern Ghouta with their families and weapons.

Moscow has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, helping him turn the tide of the bloody civil war in his favour.

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