BEIRUT: A food convoy gained entry Thursday to Syria’s besieged Yarmouk, a neighborhood in Damascus where dozens have died from shortages of food and medicines, the U.N. and Syrian state media said.
The neighborhood, which houses a Palestinian refugee camp, is one of the hardest-hit of a number of opposition enclaves under tight blockades imposed by pro-government forces.
Activists said Wednesday that at least 85 people had died in Yarmouk since mid-2013 as a result of starvation and illnesses exacerbated by hunger or lack of medical aid.
U.N. Palestinian refugee agency spokesman Chris Gunness said 1,028 food rations had been delivered to the neighborhood, in a “modest” launch of the rescue operation.
Each ration is enough to keep a family of eight going for 10 days, he told AFP.
He said earlier after the initial deliveries that there had been “chaotic scenes” as the food was distributed, the first to enter the neighborhood since Jan. 21, when UNRWA took in 138 food parcels.
Gunness said UNRWA hoped further convoys would swiftly follow as thousands of civilians were in need.
“We are encouraged by the delivery of this aid and the cooperation of the parties on the ground,” he said.
“We hope to continue and increase substantially the amount of aid being delivered because the numbers of those needing assistance is in the tens of thousands, including 18,000 Palestinians, among them women and children.”
Syria’s state news agency SANA also reported the aid distribution. “New food aid has entered Yarmouk camp, with the application of a peaceful, popular initiative supported by the Syrian government to alleviate the suffering of the residents surrounded in the camp, taken hostage by armed terrorist groups.”
State television accused the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front of firing on aid workers and wounding several people during the distribution, while the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said unknown assailants were responsible for the incidents.
It was unclear if the shooting prevented some of the aid from reaching Yarmouk residents and UNRWA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the incident.
Anwar Raja, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a pro-regime group, said parcels were transported by pickup trucks that were inspected by members of Palestinian factions, and that deeper inside the camp the parcels would be carried on foot.
Authorities recently allowed a few hundred food parcels into Yarmouk in what appeared to be a goodwill gesture ahead of the Geneva II peace talks, but residents said only a tiny amount entered because government officials ordered aid workers to distribute the parcels in an area under sniper fire.
According to the Observatory, at least 86 people have died in Yarmouk in recent months from starvation or lack of medical care.
The area is largely in the hands of rebel forces, and has been surrounded by a tight army siege since June, making it nearly impossible for food and medicines to enter or for residents to leave.
Residents have spoken of eating grass, cats and dogs to stay alive.
The need to open humanitarian corridors to relieve civilian suffering in blockaded areas has been one of the topics discussed at ongoing talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and the opposition.