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Syrian forces resume Ghouta bombing as aid convoy moves in

Air attacks reported in the town of Douma after Red Crescent said its 13 vehicles had passed through front lines
An aid convoy reaches Eastern Ghouta on 5 March, the first in many months (Reuters)

Syrian government forces resumed air attacks on Eastern Ghouta as an emergency aid convoy crossed front lines into the besieged rebel enclave on Friday, Red Cross officials said.

The Red Crescent said the aid convoy of 13 vehicles passed through front lines and was heading to the enclave's biggest town, Douma. The bombing soon resumed.

"People were hopeful after the bombardment decreased and went out onto the streets. But then air strikes began again, and there are still people under the rubble that we couldn't get out," said Moayad, a resident of the town of Saqba.

The UN envoy to Syria, Ali Zaatari, said the bombing resumed "despite assurances of safety from parties including the Russian Federation".

In less than two weeks, the Syrian army has recaptured nearly all the farmland in Eastern Ghouta under cover of near ceaseless shelling and air strikes, leaving only a dense sprawl of towns - about half the enclave - still under rebel control.

UN aid agencies have pleaded with the Syrian government and its ally Russia to halt the campaign and allow access to bring in aid after a convoy on Monday was unable to complete its delivery because of the fighting.

The Syrian government attacks have killed more than 1,000 people, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Thursday.

MSF said in the two weeks between 18 February to the evening of 3 March, medical data from 10 facilities the charity supports shows 4,829 people were wounded and 1,005 killed.

"The numbers alone speak volumes. But even more telling are the words we hear from the medics we are supporting on the ground," said Meinie Nicolai, MSF's general director.

"Daily, we hear an increasing sense of hopelessness and despair."

Imprisoned Nusra fighters to be evacuated

The Syrian rebel group Jaish al-Islam said on Friday it had agreed to evacuate Nusra Front fighters being held in its prisons in besieged eastern Ghouta to rebel-held Idlib province.

Syrian state television then showed footage it said was of 13 fighters and their families beginning to leave the besieged enclave on the outskirts of Damascus.

In a statement on Twitter on Friday, Jaish al-Islam, one of the main factions in eastern Ghouta, said the decision had been made in consultation with the United Nations, a number of international parties and civil society representatives from eastern Ghouta.

"After our meeting today with the delegation which entered Ghouta accompanying the aid convoy, an agreement was reached to evacuate the first batch of (Nusra Front) members present in the prisons of Jaish al-Islam who had been detained during security operation that Jaish al-Islam began on 28 April, 2017," read the statement from the group's leadership, dated Friday.