Unidentified gunmen attack East Ghouta aid convoy

On Saturday evening, a Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) convoy carrying aid for residents of the besieged, rebel-held East Ghouta suburbs of Damascus came under gunfire from an unidentified source.

A driver was severely wounded and taken to the hospital following the attack, and pictures of a badly damaged SARC vehicle were posted online by the organization later the same day.

The 37-truck convoy was set to transport food, medicine and “daily essentials” to 11,000 besieged residents living in the rebel-held town of Harasta when it was attacked, explained a SARC press release condemning the attack.

Saturday’s convoy would have been the first relief shipment to reach Harasta in eight months, SARC said.

“We have yet to confirm which side targeted the convoy,” a SARC volunteer, who requested anonymity because of restrictions on speaking to the media, told Syria Direct’s Noura al-Hourani on Sunday.

SARC does not conduct aid deliveries in Syria without security guarantees from armed groups in the area but “this isn’t the first time that these agreements have been breached,” said the volunteer.

“We hope that all warring parties on the ground will take into account the seriousness of our work,” he said.

"When we are targeted it hurts those most desperate for aid.”

Q: How was the convoy attacked? What was the extent of the damage?

The convoy was shot at, which damaged one of the trucks and severely injured its driver. The driver was taken to the hospital immediately and is currently in stable condition.

 A SARC worker stands in front of a truck damaged by gunfire on Saturday. Photo courtesy of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Q: How many trucks were in the convoy? What were they carrying? Why didn’t they enter East Ghouta?

There were 37 trucks in the convoy, all carrying food, medicine and health supplies.

The convoy was postponed because there were no bulldozers to clear away earthen berms blocking the road at the Police Hospital crossing [into East Ghouta].

[Ed.: The convoy waited on bulldozers for eight hours before beginning their return trip to Damascus, the SARC volunteer told Syria Direct. Shortly after turning around, the convoy came under fire from unidentified gunmen.]

Q: What safeguards and guarantees are in place to protect the convoys? Do you know the specific group that attacked the convoy? Considering this isn’t the first time a SARC convoy has been attacked, do you usually investigate these incidents?

We always get guarantees [that our convoys won’t be attacked] from the conflicting parties before we send aid to [East Ghouta].

Nonetheless, this isn’t the first time that these agreements have been breached and our convoys have been attacked.

We have yet to confirm which side targeted the convoy.

Of course, we will follow the subject with the security and safety team in the main branch of the Red Crescent.

Q: Will the Red Crescent stop sending aid to East Ghouta after the latest attack? If so, for how long?

We were supposed to send aid today, but because of the driver’s injury it was postponed. The aid will be sent sometime during the next two days, God willing.

Q: What is your message for those who attack humanitarian convoys?

We hope that all warring parties on the ground will take into account the seriousness of our work, and that they will provide all the facilities necessary for the organization to [provide aid] to all of those impacted by war.

We are a humanitarian organization, and when we are targeted it hurts those most desperate for aid.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani is from Latakia province. She studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor in Syria. She has worked at Syria Direct since 2015 and was named the 2018 Middle East and North Africa Laureate for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers' (WAN-IFRA) Women in News Editorial Leadership Award.

Justin Clark

Justin studied Arabic at Western Michigan University. He continued his studies at Bethlehem University in the West Bank and the Qasid Institute in Jordan. Justin's work and studies have taken him to Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and Greece.