Rebel-held town east of Syria capital to get aid: UN

DAMASCUS: The United Nations was on Friday preparing to deliver aid to a rebel-held town east of Damascus, in the second distribution of assistance since a shaky truce began in Syria.

An official in the UN’s humanitarian coordination office told AFP that a convoy of “food, nutrition, and medical supplies” was to be distributed to 20,000 people in Kafr Batna on Friday. “The convoy has just left Damascus,” the official said.

Kafr Batna is in the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta, which was hit by air strikes on Friday for the first time since the truce began early last Saturday. Eastern Ghouta, besieged by pro-government forces since 2013, was regularly and heavily bombarded by the regime, but had been relatively calm since the ceasefire started.

The first delivery of humanitarian assistance under the truce took place on Monday in Moadamiyet al-Sham, an encircled opposition town southwest of the capital. Non-food items such as blankets and hygiene supplies were delivered there.

The UN’s lead aid coordinator, Yacoub El Hillo, said on Sunday he hoped the truce would allow aid to be delivered to 154,000 people over the following five days. Syria’s main opposition body, the High Negotiations Committee, has criticised both the regime and the United Nations for what it says are delayed and insufficient deliveries.

HNC head Riad Hijab said on Thursday that aid was “only entering very limited areas”. On Thursday, Jan Egeland, special adviser for aid to the UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, voiced hope that the ceasefire would “lead to a big leap forward… in reaching many hundreds of thousands more people”. “Considering how it has been, we are obviously making great progress, but there is a lot left to be done,” he told AFP.