Thousands flee besieged enclave in Syria as aid convoy arrives

Thousands flee besieged enclave in Syria as aid convoy arrives

Update: 3.45pm: Thousands of civilians streamed out of a town in Syria's besieged, opposition-held enclave of eastern Ghouta today.

They were crossing on foot and in pick-up trucks and tractors to government-held territory near the capital, Damascus.

Footage on state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV showed men, women and children walking out of the town of Hamouria carrying their belongings, including clothes and mattresses and suitcases.

The broadcaster showed a herd of sheep among the crowds leaving through the crossing.

The channel said nearly 10,000 people left on Monday - the largest civilian exodus from eastern Ghouta since the government launched a punishing assault on the rebel-held region more than three weeks ago.

More than 1,200 civilians have been killed in government and Russian air strikes and rocket fire.

The mass exit came as Syrians marked seven years since the popular uprising that caused their country's vicious civil war - and hours after Syrian government forces blanketed the town with airstrikes and rocket fire.

Al-Mayadeen TV showed buses waiting to pick up civilians. Al-Ihkbariya said they will be taken to a centre for identification and relief.

Men interviewed by state-TV reporters heaped praise on the army and President Bashar Assad and said armed groups had humiliated them and held them against their will in eastern Ghouta.

The government and rebels have traded accusations over who is blocking civilians from leaving.

Workers unloading Syrian Red Crescent trucks carrying humanitarian aid to be distributed in eastern Ghouta. Photo: Syrian Arab Red Crescent via AP.
Workers unloading Syrian Red Crescent trucks carrying humanitarian aid to be distributed in eastern Ghouta. Photo: Syrian Arab Red Crescent via AP.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group put the number of those who had left eastern Ghouta so far at 9,300.

It also said government forces targeted a column of civilians fleeing Hamouria before dawn on Thursday, wounding several people, and that 26 people were killed in government strikes on the town on Wednesday.

The UN estimates that close to 400,000 people are trapped inside the government's siege of eastern Ghouta.

11am: A convoy delivering aid to thousands of displaced Syrian families has entered the besieged rebel-held region of eastern Ghouta, as Russia announced an extended "humanitarian pause" in fighting.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the joint convoy organised with the United Nations and the Syria Red Crescent Society consists of 25 trucks.

The ICRC said: "This is just a little of what these families need."

The convoy is heading for the town of Douma, the largest and most populated in eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus, according to Douma-based media activist Youssef Boustani.

Syrian Red Crescent trucks carrying humanitarian aid to be distributed in eastern Ghouta. Photo: Syrian Arab Red Crescent via AP.
Syrian Red Crescent trucks carrying humanitarian aid to be distributed in eastern Ghouta. Photo: Syrian Arab Red Crescent via AP.

Aid deliveries last week were mired in violence that disrupted its distribution, with shells slamming into the town as the aid workers were inside.

The Russian military said it had extended a "humanitarian pause" in fighting for two days in Douma.

The Defence Ministry claimed the pause on Thursday and Friday has allowed growing numbers of civilians to reach safety.

Major General Yuri Yevtushenko was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying 131 people left the area through the humanitarian corridor on Wednesday.

Major General Vladimir Zolotukhin said 100 people are expected to be evacuated on Thursday.

Moscow ordered the daily humanitarian pauses late last month, but few civilians have left.

Activists and monitoring groups added that government and Russian forces were still blanketing the Ghouta region with air strikes and rocket fire.

They said government shelling and air strikes killed at least 20 civilians on Wednesday in eastern Ghouta.

The assaults come as Syria marked the seventh anniversary of the popular uprising that sparked the country's vicious civil war.

The Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, said its first responders were not able to reach the wounded in towns in rebel-held eastern Ghouta because of the intensity of the assault.

It said one of its rescue workers was killed in an air strike in Hazeh on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a column of civilians trying to flee government advances in Hamouria were targeted with shelling early in the day that wounded several people.

It said 26 people were killed in Hamouria on Wednesday.

- PA

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