AMMAN: A humanitarian aid convoy scheduled to enter the besieged East Ghouta suburbs outside Damascus on Thursday was postponed amid pro-government bombings and claims of a chlorine gas attack on the rebel-held enclave.
“We don’t know yet when we will go ahead with the convoy,” Ingy Sedky, spokeswoman for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), told Syria Direct from Damascus on Thursday.
Security concerns and other “developments on the ground” led to the convoy being postponed, Sedky said, adding that she could not comment on specific developments.
Pro-government air and artillery strikes killed at least 13 residents in East Ghouta on Thursday, according to reports by the Syrian Civil Defense released via social media.
However, Civil Defense spokesman Siraj Mahmoud told Syria Direct on Thursday afternoon local time that his organization was still in the process of documenting deaths and injuries, and final casualty numbers were not available.
A Saqba resident stands amid the rubble on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Ghouta Media Center.
Russian state media said “militants’ shelling attacks” caused the humanitarian convoy’s delay in a report on Thursday. Moscow supports the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and allied militias have encircled and besieged East Ghouta since 2013. Pro-government attacks on the rebel enclave escalated in recent weeks, killing and injuring thousands of people.
An earlier aid convoy reached the East Ghouta suburbs this past Monday, carrying food and medical supplies for an estimated 27,500 residents. It was the first aid delivery since pro-government bombings intensified in mid-February.
However, 10 of the 46 trucks in Monday’s convoy could not be unloaded due to ongoing ground battles and shelling near Douma, the de facto capital of the rebel-held pocket, Syria Direct reported on Tuesday.
Syrian government forces also withheld badly needed medical supplies from the aid delivery before the convoy passed into rebel-controlled territory, Syria Direct reported at the time.
The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations received approval this week to deliver health, food and nutrition supplies to an “70,000 people in need” in the encircled rebel pocket, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported on Sunday.
The working class towns and farming villages of the East Ghouta suburbs are home to an estimated 400,00 residents.
“It wasn’t enough in the first place,” Majd a-Deen Bakour, the head of media relations for the Douma Local Council, told Syria Direct on Thursday, referring to Monday’s aid convoy. “Everything has been used up, and Ghouta has nothing.”
The day before the aid convoy was postponed, an alleged chlorine gas attack injured an estimated 100 people in East Ghouta on Wednesday, first responders and medical sources told Syria Direct.
“A helicopter dropped a barrel bomb containing chlorine gas” between the towns of Saqba and Hamouriyah at roughly 9:15 pm local time on Wednesday, Syrian Civil Defense spokesman Siraj Mahmoud told Syria Direct the following day.
At least 100 residents displayed symptoms of chlorine gas inhalation, the spokesman added. Syria Direct could not independently verify Mahmoud’s account.
Residents of the town of Hamouriyah came into the town’s medical facilities with “shortness of breath, sweating and wheezing,” Muataz Sameh, a nurse in the town, told Syria Direct on Thursday.
An East Ghouta resident receives treatment for chlorine gas inhalation on Wednesday night. Photo courtesy of SAMS.
Some of those affected by Wednesday’s alleged attack received treatment at the scene of the strike because first response vehicles could not move due to “non-stop bombing.”
“Local residents helped first response treatment by washing [affected residents] with soap and water,” the nurse added. “This treatment is not enough, but it was the only thing available.”
Syrian state media outlet SANA accused rebel groups of staging the chemical weapons attacks in an article published on Thursday, adding that “these fabrications and accusations…[are a way of] begging for Western intervention.”
Thursday’s attack near the town of Hamouriyah is the fifth alleged chemical gas attack by pro-government forces in East Ghouta since the beginning of the year, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) reported on Wednesday.
Pro-government bombings killed at least 50 residents across East Ghouta on Wednesday, according to the Civil Defense.
Civil Defense spokesman Mahmoud also claimed that pro-government planes dropped “incendiary napalm and phosphorus, leading to the outbreak of dozens of fires” in the farming towns south of the enclave on Wednesday.
Several photos and a videoposted by the Syrian Civil Defense and pro-opposition media outlets appear to show the trails of incendiary munitions falling on Hamouriyah. Syria Direct could not independently confirm the spokesman’s claims.
With additional reporting by Elissar Nader and Mohammed al-Omar.