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Besieged Syrian Town Gets First Food Aid Since 2012, Then Gets Bombed

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Relief trucks delivered food aid for the first time in four years to Daraya, the rebel-held Syrian town just outside of Damascus that has come to symbolize civilian suffering in the war, the United Nations said Friday.

But even as the relief convoy’s success was announced by the World Food Program, the United Nations anti-hunger agency, residents of Daraya were reporting that Syrian military aircraft were bombing the town, making it difficult to distribute the food. They also said the amount delivered was roughly half of what was needed.

“People didn’t come in large numbers to receive the convoy, they were afraid of the bombing,” Amjad Abbar, a member of a local council in Daraya, said by telephone, with sounds of explosions and aircraft heard in the background. “Several barrel bombs have fallen,” he said.

News of the bombing nearly overshadowed the aid delivery, provoking anger among some Western powers hostile to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

“It is an extraordinary duplicity of the regime which we are witnessing,” Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault of France said at the United Nations, where he was visiting to preside over a Security Council meeting on protection of civilians in armed conflict.

The Daraya food delivery, a joint operation of the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent that had been repeatedly delayed, illustrated the multiple frustrations confronting relief providers in the Syrian conflict.

While President Assad has pledged under international pressure, including from his Russian allies, to allow aid into areas beyond those controlled by the government, he has created what critics describe as a bureaucratic tangle of obstacles that has effectively stalled many deliveries.

Mr. Assad also has not stopped attacks on rebel-held areas, creating security risks for aid providers. And in a new sign of what appears to be Mr. Assad’s unwillingness to negotiate an end to the war, he vowed this week to recapture “every inch” of Syria lost to his array of enemies over the past five years.

The United Nations has been pressing the Syrian government for unfettered access to 19 besieged areas controlled by insurgents, where hundreds of thousands of people have little or no access to food and medicine.

Besides the Daraya delivery, a United Nations convoy also was permitted to take food to Douma, another rebel-held town. In what seemed to be a concession by Syria, possibly to improve ties with Egypt, part of that aid was donated by Syrian expatriate businessmen in Egypt, including some who oppose Mr. Assad.

Mohamed Tharwat, the chargé d’affaires of Egypt’s embassy in Damascus, confirmed that the Douma delivery included food for 40 families donated by the expatriates. “We’re planning to send more in the future,” he said, reached by telephone.

The World Food Program said it had now provided aid to more than 1.4 million vulnerable Syrians in the first few days of June. But that is far from its goal of reaching four million people.

The agency said in a statement that the Daraya convoy included food baskets with enough staples — rice, lentils, chickpeas, beans, bulgur, oil, salt and sugar — to feed 2,400 people for a month. The convoy also delivered enough bags of flour to feed 4,000 for a month.

The operation began late on Thursday and lasted until 3 a.m. Friday, when the convoy departed, United Nations officials said.

“Incredible feat!” Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, wrote on Twitter.

While Mr. Abbar welcomed the supplies, he said that there were 8,000 people living in Daraya, so it will be necessary to divide up the supplies when it is safe to retrieve them. “The food baskets won’t cover the whole number,” he said. “Every person won’t get one whole basket.”

Unrestricted aid delivery was a requirement in a communiqué last month by the International Syria Support Group, a 17-nation collaboration led by the United States and Russia aimed at reaching a settlement to the war.

The group’s demand that Mr. Assad allow unfettered aid to civilians by June 1 went unheeded, despite its warning that air deliveries would commence if truck convoys continued to face obstacles.

When, or whether, those air deliveries would proceed remains unclear. Western diplomats at the United Nations have described the warning as a tactic to coerce Mr. Assad, and some said Friday that it appeared to be working.

“I am glad that the pressure, the commitment to air access is finally beginning to pay off with this improvement in land access and that will continue,” said Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador.“If it doesn’t work, we’ll go to airdrops.”

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(via NY Times)