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Syria's besieged Daraya receives food aid for first time since 2012

Officials say the aid convoy to the Damascus suburb is a 'breakthrough, but not a success' in fight to supply food to besieged areas
A file photo of medical aid reaching Daraya in May 2015 (AFP)

A food aid convoy on Thursday entered the Syrian town of Daraya, the first delivery since the start of the siege there imposed by the Syrian government in 2012, a Red Crescent official told AFP.

"Nine lorries are currently being unloaded in Daraya. They are carrying 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.

The convoy reportedly contained food baskets for up to 2,400 people, 960 15kg bags of flour as well as medicine and hygiene sets.

In April, the UN said at least 4,000 people were besieged in Darayya by Syrian government forces.

Last month, aid agencies delivered relief supplies to the besieged Syrian rebel-held town, but food was not among the materials delivered.

Five trucks organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were to deliver baby milk and medical and school supplies to the town, which is within a few miles of aid warehouses in the capital of Damascus.

"We see this as a breakthrough, but not a success," ICRC spokesman Pawel Krzysiek told Middle East Eye from a buffer zone near Daraya in May, waiting for the convoy to arrive.

Krzysiek said the first food aid convoy to arrive in Daraya since November 2012 should be seen as a "confidence-building opportunity".

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

Earlier on Thursday, the United Nations said the Syrian government has given approval for humanitarian convoys to reach all of the country's 19 besieged areas by the end of the month - while warning that "approval ... does not mean delivery" and that air drops and that they "are still an option".

However on Friday the body said it was still awaiting approval from Syria's government to reach two besieged areas, correcting information provided by the top envoy to the country.

"The UN is able to deliver to 17 out of 19 besieged areas," said Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN's humanitarian office (OCHA).

Syria's government has so far withheld written approval for Al Wa'er in Homs and Zabadani in rural Damascus, the UN said, clarifying information given Thursday by envoy Staffan de Mistura, who mistakenly told reporters that approval for all 19 areas had been granted.

That task force has faced pressure, including from France and Britain, to start air-dropping aid into besieged areas, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military continuing to block road convoys.

Daraya had a pre-war population of around 80,000 people, but that has dropped by more than 90 percent, with remaining residents suffering from severe shortages and malnutrition.

In April, 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 November 2012, when the government's siege on Daraya started, 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 supplies.

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