An aid convoy began to cross into Syria’s eastern Ghouta on Monday, bringing the first relief to the besieged enclave since one of the deadliest government assaults of the seven-year war began two weeks ago, but stripped of vital medical supplies.
A senior U.N. Official accompanying the convoy said he was ‘not happy’ to hear loud shelling near the crossing point into eastern Ghouta despite an agreement that the aid would be delivered under peaceful conditions.
“We need to be assured that we will be able to deliver the humanitarian assistance under good conditions,” Ali al-Za’tari told Reuters at the crossing point.
A World Health Organization (WHO) official said government authorities had removed most medical material from U.N. vehicles, preventing surgical kits, insulin, dialysis equipment and other supplies from reaching the enclave of 400,000 people.
Za’tari said the convoy had been scaled back from providing food for 70,000 people to providing for 27,500. The United Nations says Syria has agreed to let it bring the rest of the food for the full 70,000 in a second convoy in three days.
“The convoy is not sufficient,” Za’tari said.
President Bashar al-Assad vowed on Sunday to continue a military push into the biggest remaining opposition stronghold near Damascus, saying the offensive did not contradict five-hour ceasefires arranged each day by his main ally Russia.
A wider, full ceasefire backed by the U.N. Security Council has not come into effect during the campaign, which began with massive government air strikes two weeks ago and has continued in recent days with a ground assault.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the death toll from the offensive had exceeded 700 people in two weeks of intense bombardment on the densely populated region of farmland and towns.
Pro-Assad forces have made sudden advances into eastern Ghouta in recent days, capturing a third of the area, the Observatory said, and bringing them close to cutting it in two. Late on Sunday, a rebel official said factions in eastern Ghouta were working together to prepare to retake lost ground.