AMMAN: An international ceasefire that brought relief from bombardment to the blockaded southwest Damascus town of Darayya appears to be falling apart as regime forces shelled it for a third consecutive day on Monday, civilian and military sources told Syria Direct.
One of the most frequently bombed towns in Syria due to its proximity to a strategic military airport, Darayya experienced a period of calm for the first time in years due to the “cessation of hostilities” brokered by the United States and Russia in February. Prior to the agreement, regime forces dropped more than 6,600 barrel bombs on the blockaded city, leaving it almost completely destroyed.
“For 75 days, Darayya’s ceasefire was one of the most successful,” Ayham Muhammad, a spokesman for FSA-affiliated Liwa Shuhada al-Islam, which controls the blockaded town, told Syria Direct on Monday. “Apart from some regime sniper attacks, there was a high level of adherence.”
Shelling sparked multiple fires in Darayya on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Local Council of Daraya City.
As the ceasefire held over the last several weeks, international aid organizations negotiated with regime representatives to gain access to Darayya to deliver aid for the first time since 2012. An approved aid convoy arrived last Thursday. The Syrian regime had denied the entrance of food, but the trucks were carrying medical supplies, baby formula and school supplies.
The convoy waited at the government checkpoint all day, and finally turned back at 6pm. Shortly afterwards, “the Syrian military launched a barrage of at least nine mortars at Darayya, targeting the area where civilians had been gathering to await the delivery of the humanitarian supplies,” according to a statement on Friday from PAX, a Dutch peace organization that has been working in Syria since 2003.
An aid convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Red Crescent and United Nations was due to enter Darayya on Thursday but was turned back “at the last government checkpoint, despite having obtained prior clearance by all parties that it could proceed,” the ICRC and UN in Syria said in a joint statement on the same day.
“People were generally upset that the convoy would only bring medical aid and not food,” Muhannad Abu al-Zain, a citizen journalist and Darayya resident told Syria Direct on Sunday.
Two pediatricians serve all of Darayya’s estimated 8,000 residents, who have no access to vaccines, few antibiotics and little baby formula, Syria Direct reported in April.
“Of course there was hope and optimism,” Abu al-Zain said, because the children need vaccines, baby formula and medicines in general.”
Instead, two days later, Darayya witnessed “an attempt by regime military vehicles to storm the city from the south” accompanied by dozens of mortar shells, the city’s Local Council reported on Saturday. Syrian state media has offered no comment about Darayya.
Liwa Shuhada al-Islam and Ajnad a-Sham, the former an FSA brigade and the latter an Islamist one, currently control Darayya. Syrian regime forces encircled the town, adjacent to the Mezze military airport, in November 2012.
While rebel forces drove back Saturday’s advance, the ground bombardment continued on Monday. Since Saturday, at least 65 shells have reportedly struck Darayya, according to the city’s Local Council.
“People are living like they were before the ceasefire; in the shelters, in the trenches,” activist Abu al-Zain told Syria Direct on Monday. “For others, it doesn’t matter anymore. They’re living their lives as though there were no bombings.”
“Monday’s mortar shelling is focused on the southern front and Darayya’s main roads,” Liwa Shuhada spokesman Muhammad told Syria Direct.
“Continuing military mobilization south of Darayya” accompanied the shelling, Darayya’s Local Council reported.
“On Sunday, surface-to-surface missiles and mortar shells targeted Darayya and led to fires that burned some crops, mostly wheat,” Muhammad said. One artillery shell struck a large warehouse storing wood on Sunday, sparking a blaze that destroyed the building and “is continuing until now.”
“The aid delivery was a fantasy,” said activist Abu al-Zain. “When it didn’t enter, people were struck with despair.”
“The convoy left, and the mortar shelling began.”