March 2, 2018 / 9:19 AM / 3 months ago

UNICEF says aid convoy for 180,000 Syrians could go on Sunday

GENEVA (Reuters) - Syria’s government may allow an aid convoy with supplies for 180,000 people to go to the town of Douma in the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta on Sunday, the Middle East director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said on Friday.

Geert Cappelaere said there were initial agreements for further convoys to serve more of the enclave’s 400,000 people, but no agreement on evacuation for some 1,000 people in dire medical need.

“We have an indication from the government of Syria that an aid convoy will be allowed in on March 4, that is the day after tomorrow. We hope that indication turns into a bold commitment,” Cappelaere told a news conference. “We are ready to move in.”

Rebel-held eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, has been besieged by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad since 2013, and in the past few months the siege has tightened, with almost no aid going in and food, water, electricity and medical supplies running out.

Rebels inside the area have fired mortars out towards Damascus and pro-Assad forces have shelled and bombed the enclave, despite a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding a 30 day ceasefire, and a Russian bid for daily five hour pauses.

Later on Friday, the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva will hold an urgent debate on eastern Ghouta, at Britain’s request.

The convoy’s supplies are mainly health and nutrition related, and would serve 70,000 children out of the 200,000 in eastern Ghouta, an area that encompasses many settlements.

The Syrian government has previously stripped medical equipment from aid convoys to prevent the treatment of anyone involved in the fighting, an apparent breach of international law. Cappelaere suggested the same was likely to happen again.

“Between now and Sunday, let us be realistic, we have seen in the past on certain convoys supplies have been taken off, mainly surgical supplies,” he said.

Levels of severe acute malnutrition, the most dangerous stage of malnutrition, had increased tenfold in the past six months among children in the enclave, he said.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Kevin Liffey, William Maclean

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