AMMAN (Reuters) - The Syrian government has given approval for the United Nations to deliver aid next week to thousands of civilians stranded on the Jordanian-Syrian border and threatened with starvation, aid workers and camp officials said on Wednesday.
A siege this month by the Syrian army and a block on aid by Jordan has depleted food at the camp in the Rubkan area of southeast Syria. That has led to at least a dozen deaths in the past week among its more than 50,000 inhabitants, mainly women and children, residents and U.N. sources told Reuters.
Rukban lies inside a “deconfliction zone” set up by U.S. forces. Damascus says U.S. troops are occupying Syrian territory and providing a safe haven for rebels.
The United Nations office in Damascus confirmed that preparations were being made for a convoy next week to desperate camp residents.
“The overall humanitarian situation inside the Rukban camp is at a critical stage. The U.N. in Syria together with Syrian Red Arab Cresent (SARC) will reach the camp to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance in the coming few days.” the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, Ali Al-Za’tari, said in a statement.
Earlier local relief bodies in the camp said U.N. officials had contacted them to say they have received authorisation from Damascus to send an aid convoy on Oct. 25.
“The U.N. told us they would bring in aid ... they have promised many times in the past but every time they say we were not able to come because the (Syrian) regime did not allow us,” said Oqba al Abdullah, a relief official in the camp.
“We hope this time it’s true.”
The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF warned last week that without aid the lives of thousands of children in the camp were at risk.
U.N. officials have been pressing Moscow to get its ally Damascus to agree to the aid shipment, a senior U.N. source involved in the operation told Reuters.
In the last three years, tens of thousands of people have fled to the camp from Islamic State-held parts of Syria being targeted by Russian and U.S.-led coalition air strikes.
The Syrian army has tightened its siege of the camp, which is also near the Iraqi border, preventing smugglers and traders from delivering food.[L8N1WR1SZ]
Jordan agreed earlier to allow a one-off aid shipment but has said since it should not be held responsible as the camp is not on its territory and all future provisions must come from U.N. stores inside Syria.
The “deconfliction zone” is designed to shield U.S. troops at the Tanf garrison and maintain for Washington a strategic foothold in an area close to a crucial supply route for Iranian weapons entering Syria from Iraq.
U.S.-led coalition warplanes have several times struck Iranian-backed militias allied to Damascus, in what Washington has described as self-defence.
Western diplomats believe the siege of the camp is part of a Russian-led effort to put pressure on Washington to get out of Tanf. U.S. Marines conducted rare military exercises in the area last month.
Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by David Stamp and Andrew Roche