U.N. asks Syria to ensure truce for Thursday Ghouta aid convoy

by Reuters
Wednesday, 7 March 2018 15:20 GMT

A man walks on the rubble of damaged buildings at the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

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Ghouta's 400,000 residents were running out of food and medicine even before the bombing campaign began

(Corrects title of Faisal Mekdad to deputy foreign minister)

BEIRUT, March 7 (Reuters) - The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Syria has appealed to the government to commit to a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta on Thursday to let in an aid convoy containing medical supplies that were stripped from a delivery on Monday.

The United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Syria Ali al-Za'tari sent the letter to Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad on Tuesday according to a copy seen by Reuters.

An aid convoy reached the besieged, rebel-held enclave near Damascus on Monday for the first time since the start of a massive government bombing campaign and assault to recapture it in mid-February.

It was only the second convoy so far in 2018 to reach the area, where the United Nations says 400,000 residents were already running out of food and medicine even before the bombing campaign began.

Medical supplies were removed from Monday's convoy while it was still being loaded, Za'atari wrote. Once it reached Ghouta, the convoy was unable to fully unload because military operations in the area had not stopped.

A Western diplomat in Geneva said of the hasty withdrawal: "It was a close call. There were 83 aid workers on board."

Za'atari added that his and other cars and personal handbags belonging to humanitarian staff were searched, and the government had requested staff with the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) be excluded.

All U.N. vehicles and OCHA staff should be allowed to enter the biggest eastern Ghouta town of Douma on Thursday with the medical supplies that were removed on Monday, and without their vehicles being subjected to inspections, he said.

The government should "commit to cease fire throughout the area of eastern Ghouta during the entry of the humanitarian convoy, and during its presence in the area".

On Feb. 24 the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding a full 30-day ceasefire across all of Syria, but the government and its main ally Russia argue that it does not protect the rebel groups based in eastern Ghouta.

Russia has called for five-hour daily ceasefires each day in eastern Ghouta since early last week, but the Syrian government offensive to recapture the enclave has continued. (Reporting By Tom Perry Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Writing by Angus McDowall Editing by Peter Graff)

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