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Syria: delivery of aid for the deferred Ghouta, the regime advances

Ⓒ AFP – STRINGER – | Russian soldiers are held on March 8, 2018 at a checkpoint at the Damascus periphère near a humanitarian aid truck for the inhabitants of a rebel enclave

The delivery of humanitarian aid scheduled for Thursday in the beleaguered rebel enclave in Eastern Ghouta has been postponed for security reasons, as the Syrian regime is relentlessly pursuing its ground offensive and deadly bombing of this insurgent stronghold near Damascus.

Meanwhile, doctors have reported dozens of cases of suffocation Wednesday night, allegedly due to a new chemical attack.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad, supported by Moscow, has already reconquered more than half of the rebel enclave since the intensification of its offensive on February 18 on this last insurgent stronghold at the gates of the capital, stronghold of the regime.

More than 900 civilians were killed in the bombings, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH).

Despite appeals by the international community, powerless against the bloodshed, the regime’s forces are seeking to split the rebel enclave in two, where some 400,000 people, besieged since 2013, suffer daily shortages of food and medicine.

Medical aids and food were to be distributed in Ghouta on Thursday, but the UN and partner NGOs announced that delivery had been postponed to a later date.

The situation that “evolves on the ground (…) does not allow us to carry out the operation”, said to AFP Ingy Sedky, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) .

– Immobilized convoy –

A journalist working with AFP saw convoy trucks stuck on the outskirts of Damascus, near a humanitarian corridor leading to the rebel enclave.

On Monday, a convoy of some forty trucks of food and medical aid had to abort its mission because of the bombing of Douma, the big city of Ghouta. Initially, the aid that was to be delivered this week was intended for 70,000 people.

Only half of food aid transported on Monday could have been delivered, said a spokesman in Damascus of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCH), Linda Tom.

The UN Security Council had expressed the wish Wednesday that aid could be routed “every day” in the rebel enclave, according to a diplomat.

Ⓒ AFP – AMER ALMOHIBANY – | A boy is treated on March 7, 2018 in a makeshift hospital of the rebel enclave in eastern Ghouta, bombed by Syrian regime forces

But the Assad regime is ignoring these calls, continuing its offensive despite a Security Council resolution passed in late February, calling for a thirty-day ceasefire throughout Syria, ravaged since 2011 by a war that has more than 340,000 dead.

On Wednesday, the shelling of the regime and its Russian ally killed 91 civilians, according to the OSDH, despite a five-hour daily truce decreed by Moscow for more than a week.

Government forces have reconquered more than half of the rebel enclave, and are now trying to cut what remains of the rebel stronghold in two, to isolate the northern sector, where Douma is, from the southern sector.

Fighting between rebels and regime forces is also taking place on the outskirts of Douma, but also the localities of Hammouriyé and Jisrine, further south, targets of air raids, according to the same source.

– ‘I’m going to suffocate’ –

On Wednesday evening, at least 60 people suffered respiratory difficulties in the localities of Saqba and Hammouriyé, after air strikes by the regime and its Russian ally, the OSDH said.

Similar cases of suffocation have already been reported twice in recent days, according to the Observatory.

“Due to a chlorine gas attack in Eastern Ghouta, patients are suffering from severe breathing difficulties,” said the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS), an NGO that supports medical centers in Syria.

In Hammouriyé, an AFP correspondent saw dozens of people, women and children, leave the basements where they are hiding to escape the air raids, and settle on a roof in the hope of being able to better breathe.

Ⓒ AFP – Amer ALMOHIBANY – | A child with respiratory difficulties receives treatment on March 7 at a clinic in the rebel enclave in eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, where an NGO reported a chemical attack

The parents undressed the coughing children to wash them down with water, and try to eliminate a possible presence of toxic gas on their bodies.

“I’m going to suffocate,” two children were yelling as helpers carried him to get them to get treatment.

The Syrian regime, which has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons, has been singled out in recent weeks for alleged attacks of chlorine gas.

These accusations, “unrealistic” according to Bashar al-Assad, caused an uproar on the international scene, Washington and Paris brandishing the threat of strikes in Syria.

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