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Syrian government sends aid away before it reaches besieged Daraya

Soon after convoy was refused entry, government forces reportedly shelled areas where residents had gathered to wait for aid
A Syrian Red Crescent aid convoy near Damascus in March (AFP)

The Syrian government turned away trucks of aid on Thursday before they were able to reach the town of Daraya, besieged since 2012, a resident told Middle East Eye over Skype late on Thursday.

Soon after news emerged that the convoy was refused entry, government forces reportedly shelled areas where residents had gathered to wait for the aid, killing two people and wounding five, according to Siege Watch, an independent monitoring network.

Five trucks were to deliver relief supplies, including babies' milk, vaccines and school supplies, but not food, on Thursday and were thought to have been waiting in a buffer zone outside the town since about noon.

Early on Thursday evening, the resident said he heard from international aid agencies that the government had prevented the convoy from entering and cancelled the mission. 

The International Red Cross confirmed the halting of the delivery on Twitter:

The scheduled aid delivery would have been the first since Daraya, a suburb of Damascus within a few miles of aid warehouses in the capital, was besieged by the government in November 2012. 

Earlier on Thursday, International Red Cross spokesman Pawel Krzysiek acknowledged that the delivery did not include much-needed food, but should be seen as "a confidence-building opportunity".

"We see this as a breakthrough, but not a success," Krzysiek said from a buffer zone near the town.

"We are urging everyone who is responsible on the ground to allow this needed aid to Dararya," he said.

Daraya had a pre-war population of about 80,000 people, but that has dropped by almost 90 percent, with an estimated 8,000 remaining residents suffering from severe shortages and malnutrition.

Last month, 47 women in the Syrian town sent an open letter saying they were on the verge of witnessing their children and relatives starve to death if aid did not reach them soon.

Since the government's siege on Daraya began, residents have survived off food smuggled in from a nearby town and whatever crops they could grow. Two years ago, the government cut off the town's water supply.

This January, the crisis in the town escalated when the road to the next town was cut off and frequent government bombing left Daraya's drinking water, siphoned from shallow wells, and farmland contaminated with toxic chemicals, a resident told MEE last month.

Sawsan al-Abaar, one of the signatories of the letter, told MEE last month that she and other women – many of whom, she said, have lost the breadwinners in their families - sent their letter to the world because they “no longer have the patience to be silent”.

“We are seeing our children starting to look like skeletons, our one-year-old babies like three-month olds,” she said. “We are counting on the conscience of the world to help.”

The UN says more than 486,000 people are living under siege in Syria, more than half of them in areas besieged by the government. 

Siege Watch, however, has said that the total number of Syrians besieged is more than 1 million, while the NGO Doctors Without Borders puts it at almost 2 million. 

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