The first aid convoy of 2018 enters the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta amidst intensifying airstrikes and shelling.
For the first time in 2018, an aid convoy has entered Damascus’ Eastern Ghouta suburb, delivering vital food and other supplies to Syrians amidst rapidly-deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
The aid convoy, consisting of nine trucks, seven of which carried relief supplies and food, is the product of two month-long negotiations between the Syrian Government forces and international organisations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Many of these organisations have been warning that cases of malnutrition and famine have skyrocketed since the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) tightened its siege on the suburb.
The convoys entered from the government-held areas into the Nashabiya District where the supplies were distributed to the local population. However, in a story that has become all too familiar to the locals of Eastern Ghouta, the aid distributed was barely enough to sustain the needs of one neighbourhood, let alone some estimated 400,000 people forced to live under siege conditions. Indeed, the aid convoy was met with many angry protesters who accused the aid workers of trying to legitimise the siege by providing the bare minimum of aid. For humanitarian aid organisations, however, the ability to deliver any aid is contingent on navigating a complicated political terrain. Many of them are forced to make compromises in order to deliver any aid at all.
There is also a fear among the locals of Eastern Ghouta that the delivery of aid may herald something worse to come. Airstrikes and shelling by the government forces have intensified since the new year, marking January 2018 as one of the bloodiest months of the conflict. The deaths of as many as 250 civilians in a week has prompted the United Nations to call for a ceasefire. However, many of the locals here believe that instead of a ceasefire, the SAA is about to launch a major ground offensive. Indeed, over the weekend, there were reports of massive SAA convoys taking positions around Eastern Ghouta, including elite units such as the Tiger Forces and the Republican Guard.
If the SAA really is preparing to launch a ground offensive, then life in Eastern Ghouta will likely get a lot worse before it gets better.