AMMAN: An aid convoy entered the rebel-held southwest Damascus suburb of Darayya for the first time since Syrian regime forces encircled it in late 2012 on Wednesday, as a 48-hour ceasefire also reportedly went into effect in the town.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the United Nations entered Darayya alongside the ICRC to deliver medical aid only. It was not immediately clear how many vehicles participated.
“The convoy does not contain any food,” Darayya’s Local Council wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “It contains medicines and medical equipment.”
“We’ve just entered the city,” tweeted the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria on Wednesday.
Syrian regime forces encircled southwest Damascus’s Darayya—strategically important due to its proximity to the Mezze military airport—in November 2012.
A humanitarian aid convoy enters Darayya on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of ICRC Syria.
Regime forces have reportedly dropped more than 6,600 barrel bombs on Darayya since 2012, leaving much of the town in ruins.
Home to an estimated 8,000 residents, Darayya is currently controlled by Liwa Shuhada al-Islam and Ajnad a-Sham, the former an FSA brigade and the latter an Islamist one.
Two weeks ago, the International Syria Support Group—a group of world powers including the United States and Russia—called on the UN’s World Food Program to “immediately carry out a program for air bridges and air drops” starting on June 1 if the UN was denied access to besieged areas in Syria. Towns listed included Darayya and neighboring Moadimiyet a-Sham.
Wednesday’s delivery is “just a first step,” Marjolein Wijninckx, Syria Programme Manager at peace organization PAX told Syria Direct on Wednesday, calling it “a small amount of medical aid just in time for the ISSG deadline.”
“It will only have an impact if the flow of food and aid is unimpeded,” Wijninckx said. “The siege of Darayya is a collective punishment and must be lifted, together with all the sieges in Syria, to ensure lasting peace.”
Also on Wednesday, the Darayya Local Council posted a video showing burned crops in Darayya. “While besieged people in Darayya are waiting for long-awaited medical aid, Assad forces are shelling and burning crops inside Darayya.” Syria Direct could not immediately verify the council’s claim.
On May 12—five days before the ISSG called for air drops—Syrian regime forces stationed outside Darayya prevented an international aid convoy carrying medical aid and school supplies from entering the town.
After the vehicles turned back, Syrian regime forces shelled the area where civilians had gathered in anticipation of the aid delivery, killing two of them.
The following days saw heavy shelling return to Darayya, accompanied by regime ground advances, Syria Direct reported at the time. Violence has continued over the past three weeks.
On Tuesday, violent battles were reported between FSA rebels in Darayya and regime forces in the southern part of Darayya. “More than 20 ground-to-ground missiles and dozens of hellfire missiles” struck the town, reported the Darayya Media Center.
To facilitate the delivery of aid, a 48-hour ceasefire agreement went into effect in Darayya on Wednesday, in an initiative by Moscow, Washington and the Syrian regime.