Besieged Syrian town of Daraya receives aid after 4 years

A humanitarian aid convoy entered the rebel-held Syrian town of Daraya on Wednesday carrying mainly medicine and baby milk.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Vehicles of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations wait on a street after an aid convoy entered the rebel-held Syrian town of Daraya, southwest of the capital Damascus, on June 1, 2016.

A humanitarian aid convoy entered the rebel-held Syrian town of Daraya on Wednesday, the Red Cross said, in the first such delivery since a regime siege of the town began in 2012.

But the opposition said the delivery was only of medical supplies and British charity Save the Children said it was "shocking and completely unacceptable" that it excluded desperately needed food.

Meanwhile, a UN spokeswoman said parcels of wheat and flour were delivered to the besieged town of Mouadamiya. 

Last month, the United Nations warned that if it did not see improvement on aid access to besieged areas by June 1, it would task the World Food Programme with carrying out air drops in Syria.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said both United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent staff were involved in Wednesday's delivery.

Daraya was one of the first towns in Syria to erupt in demonstrations against Bashar al Assad’s regime in 2012 and one of the first to be placed under a regime siege in the same year.

Children watch as the first humanitarian aid convoy enters Daraya. (AFP)


An estimated 8,000 people live in the town, which is just a 15-minutes drive southwest of Damascus.

Despite intensifying appeals from its residents, the United Nations and rights groups, the regime had so far repeatedly refused to allow aid into the town.

On May 12, a five-truck aid convoy waiting on Daraya's outskirts was denied permission to enter in a dramatic 11th-hour rejection.

"The last time, people were filling the streets waiting for the aid to come in," activist Shadi Matar told Agence France Presse from inside Daraya.

"This time, there was no one. They were afraid the regime will shell them, and they know the convoy only holds medical aid," he said.

According to the UN, a total of 592,000 people live under siege in Syria -- the majority besieged by regime forces -- and another 4 million live in hard-to-reach areas.

Peace talks to end Syria's five-year war stalled in April after the opposition walked out over escalating violence and a lack of humanitarian access.

People walk towards a checkpoint controlled by Syrian regime forces while waiting for permission to leave the besieged area of Moudamiya Al Sham, in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria, June 1, 2016. (Reuters)

'Not enough'

Daraya's local council said the convoy included only "medical supplies," but no food for the town's starving people.

"Clearly the regime is trying to diffuse pressure, but clearly one convoy that carries only medical supplies is not enough," a spokeswoman for Syria's main opposition group said.

"We need to see a substantial change in strategy and an end to the starvation strategy," Basma Kodmani said.

Bissan Fakih, a spokeswoman for advocacy group The Syria Campaign, said people in Daraya would only breathe a sigh of relief when they received food.

"The aid convoy was only able to go in today because world powers threatened airdrops if there was to be no access by land.

"The members of the International Syria Support Group need to keep up the pressure," she said, referring to nations led by the United States and Russia pushing for peace talks to end the five-year conflict.

"If they look away, there will be starvation."

Earlier on Wednesday, Russia announced that a local truce would be observed for 48 hours in Daraya to ensure that aid could be delivered safely.

The temporary freezes on fighting have been introduced in Daraya and elsewhere as a way to reinforce a broader ceasefire brokered by Russia and the US for swathes of Syrian territory.

More than 280,000 people have been killed since the conflict in Syria erupted in March 2011, and millions have been forced to flee their homes.