An international aid convoy has delivered food to the Damascus suburb of Daraya for the first time in four years, but opposition activists said its distribution had been held up by government forces’ heavy air bombardment.
The opposition-held suburb, south-west of the Syrian capital, has been under siege by government forces since November 2012, and has suffered some of the worst bombardments of the six-year civil war.
Severe malnutrition has been reported among its few thousand residents, due to 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.
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.
Just delivered food, nutrition, health, medical, WASH & education supplies in #Daraya #Syria with @UN @SYRedCrescent pic.twitter.com/uLlH0tMPVR— OCHA Syria (@OCHA_Syria) June 10, 2016
The UN estimates there are 592,700 people under siege in Syria, with 452,700 of those 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 UN 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 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, yesterday.
An official with the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) 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.
#Daraya— ًWard Alyafe "Amer KH" (@ward_alyafe) June 10, 2016
44 explosive barrels targeted Daraya today pic.twitter.com/NtSv3M5Qhq
He said the WFP had delivered 480 food rations, which would feed 2,400 people 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.”
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.
With 90% of Daraya population fled, remaining near starvation, Assad finally lets in food. https://t.co/iRr0Pe73b8 pic.twitter.com/KDxmFzDLVF— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) June 10, 2016
Photographs posted online by activists in the suburb showed UN and SARC officials meeting local leaders, 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.
Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said: “It was quite a feat, our field colleagues tell us.
"We are very proud of them, today, that they managed to get through all the checkpoints to get in there, deliver overnight, stock what needed to be stocked and provide food for the first time in years to people inside Daraya.”
Food, health, nutrition & educational supplies reached #Daraya’s basement schools last night #Syria @UNICEFmedia pic.twitter.com/1CusV2kstk— UNICEF (@UNICEF) June 10, 2016