Food arrives in battered Ghouta

‘HELL ON EARTH’::Jaish al-Islam said Hayat Tahrir al-Sham fighters would be evacuated to Idlib in a deal made with the UN and other international players


Sun, Mar 11, 2018 - Page 5

The Syrian Army yesterday continued its offensive against rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, a day after an aid convoy delivered food to the hunger-stricken residents of the enclave despite heavy bombardment.

Nearly 950 civilians have been killed since Russia-backed government forces launched a blistering assault on the last opposition bastion near Damascus on Feb. 18.

Eastern Ghouta’s 400,000 inhabitants have lived under government siege since 2013 and the enclave — more than half of which has in the past three weeks been retaken by regime forces — is home to a myriad of armed groups.

Apart from Islamist groups such as Jaish al-Islam, militants from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), who are mostly linked to al-Qaeda, are also deployed there.

Syrian state television aired footage of a single bus carrying 13 “fighters” and family members out of the enclave through al-Wafideen checkpoint, without giving their affiliation.

Some appeared to be young, while others wore hoodies to cover their heads and faces.

The limited operation came as the powerful Jaish al-Islam said HTS fighters would be evacuated to the northern province of Idlib, in an arrangement struck following consultations with the UN and other international players.

“It has been agreed that the first group of HTS members be released from the prisons of Jaish al-Islam ... [and] moved to Idlib at their request,” Jaish al-Islam said.

Civilians continued to bear the brunt of the violence on Friday with at least six killed in airstrikes on Jisreen, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Thirteen trucks carrying 2,400 food parcels crossed into Eastern Ghouta, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said, entering what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called “hell on Earth.”

However, “shelling” near the enclave’s main town of Douma threatened “to put at risk” the joint ICRC, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and UN convoy, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria Ali al-Zaatari said.