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Violence continues amid relief operation in besieged Damascus suburb

Syrian government forces are hoping to recapture the rebel-held enclave of Ghouta.

Syrian government soldiers advancing during a battle against Syrian rebels, in eastern Ghouta (Sana/AP)
Syrian government soldiers advancing during a battle against Syrian rebels, in eastern Ghouta (Sana/AP)

Relief workers used a brief lull in Damascus’ embattled rebel-held suburbs to try and deliver remaining aid left over from a mission earlier in the week but were interrupted by renewed violence shorty after their team entered eastern Ghouta.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said a convoy of 13 lorries with supplies, including food parcels for 12,000 people, went into Douma, the largest and most populated town in the rebel-held eastern Ghouta, on the edge of the Syrian capital, earlier in the day.

Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Douma was shelled before the convoy went in.

Once the relief workers arrived, Syrian government forces shelled the outskirts of the town, he said.

Reports were sketchy and it was not immediately clear if the ICRC had offloaded all the aid.

ICRC regional director Robert Mardini tweeted that the convoy was “taken aback by renewed violence”, adding “we call on warring sides for an immediate humanitarian pause to allow” the ICRC, the UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent teams to deliver vital aid to people in eastern Ghouta.

ICRC spokeswoman Ingy Sedky said the teams “are still in and they are doing all their best to offload the remaining” vehicles.

The delivery consists of supplies that were not offloaded during a mission to the enclave on Monday, which was cut short because of deteriorating security.

The lorries had been stuck at the Wafideen crossing the entire week, waiting to enter to deliver the remaining food parcels and flour bags.

Ms Sedky said earlier the ICRC went into eastern Ghouta on Friday “after getting security guarantees from all parties to make sure no incident will happen during the presence of our team” there.

Syrian government forces during a battle in eastern Ghouta, Syria (Sana/AP)

The attempt followed what opposition activists and the Observatory said was one of the quietest nights in eastern Ghouta since Syrian government forces escalated their assault on the rebellious region on February 18.

The government and its Russian backers, determined to wrest eastern Ghouta from rebel control after seven years of war, recently intensified the shelling and bombardment to clear the way for its troops to advance on the ground. Around 900 people have been killed in the past three weeks of relentless bombardment.

Government forces this week advanced from the east and were only about a mile away from linking with forces on the western side of eastern Ghouta.

The military gains have caused wide-scale internal displacement as civilians flee government advances toward areas in the territory still held by the rebels.

Nearly 400,000 people are believed to be inside eastern Ghouta.

The most built-up and densely populated areas still under rebel control include the towns of Douma, Harasta, Jisreen, Kfar Batna, Saqba and Hammouriyeh.

The Observatory reported airstrikes on Douma and Jisreen just before the 13-vehicle convoy arrived Friday, following a several-hour lull.

It said the lull was result of local negotiations brokered by unnamed Damascus businessmen with the government to try and reach a solution that would secure the exit of fighters and civilians from eastern Ghouta.

State-run Syrian TV on Friday reported that “dozens of civilians” would likely get out of eastern Ghouta, in addition to 13 gunmen who had turned themselves in, via the Wafideen safe corridor designated by the government.

The outlet has been reporting since last week that rebels have prevented civilians from leaving.

The Britain-based Observatory, which monitors the Syria war through a network of activists on the ground, also reported that dozens of people from the town of Hammouriyeh in eastern Ghouta staged a demonstration holding Syrian flags and calling for the end to the fighting in the area.

There was no confirmation by any of the rebel groups based in eastern Ghouta of negotiations to leave eastern Ghouta.

The ICRC later said it had delivered the aid “despite fighting that took place extremely close to the humanitarian convoy”.

It delivered along with the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent 2,400 food parcels that can sustain 12,000 people for one month, as well as 3,248 wheat flour bags.

Press Association

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