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Syrian government bombing halts distribution of food in Daraya

Local official says helicopters dropping barrel bombs have prevented distribution of rebel-held town's first delivery of food aid since 2012
Syrian girls sit holding placards in Daraya last month (AFP)

Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the rebel-held town of Daraya, preventing besieged residents from receiving newly delivered food aid, a resident and a monitor said on Friday.

A convoy of food aid - approved by the government in nearby Damascus - reached Daraya late on Thursday for the first time since the government laid siege to the town in 2012.

"There has been intense random barrel bombing of the town since 9am local time," Shadi Matar, a member of the local council, told AFP, referring to the crude unguided explosive devices dropped by government helicopters.

"Aid received by the council has not been distributed yet because of the intensity of the raids," Matar said, adding that the raids were ongoing.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government helicopters had dropped at least 20 barrel bombs.

"Heavy barrel bombing on many areas of Daraya from the morning has stalled food aid distribution," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Lorries entered Daraya on Thursday with "food aid, including dry goods and flour, non-food aid as well as medical aid," said Tamam Mehrez, operations director of the Syrian Red Crescent.

A World Food Programme worker said that the convoy carried food rations for about 2,400 people for a month.

The Observatory and local council estimate that 8,000 people live in Daraya, one of the first towns in Syria to erupt in anti-government demonstrations in 2012 and one of the first to come under a government siege the same year.

But UN figures account for 4,000 besieged residents, angering inhabitants who say the food delivered is not nearly enough.

"We don't understand the UN figure," Matar said.

"The town's aid bureau might have to re-divide the food to make sure everybody gets some."

A previous UN aid convoy reached Daraya on 1 June, but contained no food.

The town is just a 15-minute drive from central Damascus, where there are aid warehouses, and is even closer to the government's Mazzeh air base, which hosts the feared air force intelligence services and their notorious prison.

In figures released on 8 June, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 270,251 people in Syria are under siege and 486,175 are in hard-to-reach areas.

Siege Watch, an independent monitoring network, however, has said that the total number of Syrians besieged is more than 1 million, while the NGO Doctors Without Borders has put the figure at almost 2 million.

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