First potential aid delivery in 4 months shattered by sniper fire in rebel-held Homs district

AMMAN: A humanitarian aid convoy failed to reach the last rebel-controlled district of Homs city on Monday “due to the security situation,” a United Nations representative told Syria Direct, one day after the delegation came under sniper fire from regime-held territory.

The aid convoy to Waer “was aborted,” said a spokeswoman with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Syria. More than 50,000 encircled residents in the neighborhood are nearing their fourth month without outside food or medical supplies.

The decision to cancel the aid delivery followed a day of intermittent sniper fire on the Homs city district Monday that injured at least two civilians.

On Sunday, at least two snipers reportedly stationed at the Gardenia Tower, located in regime-controlled territory, fired on humanitarian workers after they entered the rebel-held district of Waer, a local correspondent told Syria Direct. The attack injured one civilian as the handful of vehicles from the United Nations, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) withdrew, without completing their delivery.

“The delegation stayed in Waer for 10 minutes, and then they turned around,” Jalal Talawi, the correspondent with SMART News who spoke with aid workers at the scene, told Syria Direct on Monday.

  A road block on the outskirts of rebel-held Waer. LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images.

It was not immediately clear who opened fire on the humanitarian convoy. Pro-opposition media claimed “the regime and its supporting militias targeted the UN delegation,” adding that the attacks originated from a tower in the government-held section of the city.

Syrian state media did not officially comment on accusations of foul play in the aid delivery.

The aid convoy did come under fire on Sunday, a SARC spokeswoman confirmed to Syria Direct by phone from Damascus on Monday, but declined to give further information on the ongoing attempts to deliver aid “in order to ensure the safety of the convoy and all those who are present with it.”

The last time an aid convoy reached Waer was October 26, 2016.*

Speaking to journalists in Geneva last Thursday, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, Jan Egeland, blasted the obstruction of aid delivery to blockaded areas across Syria, calling the matter “a question of life and death.”

Egeland called for a way around the “administrative quagmire where we have to have green lights [in] so many instances that in the end no convoy moves to any besieged area.”

 Regime shelling rocks Waer on Friday. Photo courtesy of the Waer News Network.

Sunday’s attack on the international humanitarian convoy comes amidst two weeks of regime bombardment of Waer. Regime forces are hammering the district with airstrikes, mortars, surface-to-surface rockets and heavy gunfire.

In the past two weeks, there have been “23 deaths and more than 150 injuries among civilians” SMART News’s Talawi told Syria Direct.

The wave of attacks undermines an existing ceasefire and shatters more than two months of calm in Waer, Syria Direct reported earlier this month.

Pro-regime forces and allied militias have not attempted to storm the district since bombing started nearly two weeks ago. Residents inside Waer, however, describe “hunger” and “dire shortages” within the neighborhood.

“The regime doesn’t want rebels or civilians to be able to eat,” Hassan al-Asmar, a resident of Waer, told Syria Direct on Monday. “They want us to die of hunger.”

Waer is the only remaining rebel holdout district in Homs city since opposition fighters left Old Homs as part of a wide-ranging truce across the provincial capital in May 2014. Since late 2015, rebel and regime negotiators have met to discuss surrender, but the talks remain unproductive.

*Correction: A previous version of this article reported that the last aid delivery was on September 16, but on October 26 an aid convoy for 70,000 people with SARC reached al-Waer.

 

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Justin Schuster

Justin was a 2015-2016 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. He received his BA from Yale University with a double major in Global Affairs and Modern Middle Eastern Studies. While at Yale, he served as the Editor-in-Chief of the political journal, The Politic. His previous work and research in the Middle East includes time spent in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, and the West Bank.