Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ghouta aid postponed as Syria regime presses assault

Ghouta aid postponed as Syria regime presses assault

A Syrian girl receives treatment as victims of reported regime airstrikes are brought to a makeshift hospital in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday. AFP
A Syrian girl receives treatment as victims of reported regime airstrikes are brought to a makeshift hospital in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday. AFP

Ghouta aid postponed as Syria regime presses assault

Aid agencies postponed a convoy of vital food and health supplies to Eastern Ghouta on Thursday, as the Syrian regime pressed a relentless ground and air assault against the rebel enclave.

Dozens of people, including many children, were treated overnight for breathing problems and symptoms that medics said were consistent with chlorine attacks, which Western powers have repeatedly warned would not go unpunished.

New airstrikes on the town of Zamalka killed at least seven civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, bringing the total number of dead in the offensive to more than 900.

The aid trucks were meant to bring relief to war-weary civilians living under government siege for five years and now facing a deadly Russian-backed assault.

The fighting has prompted international outrage, culminating in the UN Security Council demanding an immediate ceasefire, aid deliveries and evacuations.

But with bombardment continuing, a joint convoy between the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent planned for Thursday could not go through.

“The convoy for today is postponed, as the situation is evolving on the ground, which doesn’t allow us to carry out the operation in such conditions,” ICRC spokeswoman Ingy Sedky said.

It marks the second time this week that aid operations have been disrupted by military developments, with food deliveries cut short Monday due to bombardment.

Ghouta is home to around 400,000 people under siege and is the last opposition-controlled zone on the capital’s outskirts.

The Syrian army and allied militias began a fierce bombing campaign on February 18 against Ghouta, followed by a ground offensive.

Breathing difficulties

The campaign has so far recaptured half of rebel-held territory, according to the Observatory, a Britain-based monitor.

Towns and villages have fallen in quick succession in recent days, with regime forces on the verge of cutting the remaining rebel-held territory into two isolated pockets.

AFP’s correspondent in the town of Hammuriyeh saw motionless bodies lying in the streets on Thursday after a night of ferocious bombing.

On Wednesday, volunteers from the civil defence group known as the “White Helmets” were seen trying to douse flames burning two men lying dead on the street next to a motorbike after a strike.

Dozens of civilians were treated in the town for breathing difficulties late Wednesday, with medics reporting symptoms consistent with a toxic attack.

Doctors at one facility treated at least 29 patients with signs of exposure to chlorine, according to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which supports hospitals in Eastern Ghouta.

It said victims were suffering from shortness of breath, wheezing, and redness of the eyes.

Several families were seen trying to reach fresh air late Wednesday on the roof of a four-storey building in Hammuriyeh, after airstrikes on their neighbourhood.

Parents had stripped their children down and were spraying them with water, fearing toxic substances had been absorbed into their clothes.

“I’m going to suffocate,” two children screamed as rescue workers carried them down from the roof for treatment.

‘Not authorised’ by Syria

Regime forces have been repeatedly accused of using chlorine on Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks, which both the government and Russia have staunchly denied.

Government troops have imposed a siege on Eastern Ghouta since 2013, and deliveries of food and medicine to the zone require permission from all warring sides.

The UN’s humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) in Damascus said the convoy could not go through Thursday because it had not received permission from Syrian authorities.

“Today, the UN and partners were not able to return to Douma in east Ghouta because the movement of the convoy was not authorised by the Syrian authorities due to security reasons,” said spokeswoman Linda Tom.

The UN Security Council on February 24 demanded a 30-day cessation of hostilities but the resolution has done little to bring relief to civilians.

Bombardment has continued and on Monday a long-awaited aid delivery was cut short after heavy airstrikes.

Nearly half of the food aid on the trucks could not be delivered, and the UN said Syrian authorities removed some medical and health supplies from the trucks.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Koh Rong land ‘belongs to firm’

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that the 35ha being bulldozed by Royal Group Co Ltd in Koh Rong belongs to it after it was leased to it for 99 years by the government in 2008. Phearum said the land does

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors

  • Vietnam told to remove border tents

    Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan has ordered local authorities to prohibit the construction of buildings in areas bordering Cambodia and to report any irregularities immediately. Recently, Vietnamese officials removed another seven tents from the border area with Cambodia. His remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon