SAT 19 - 1 - 2019
Nov 5, 2018
The Daily Star
Aid workers reach remote Rukban camp for first time
DAMASCUS: United Nations officials and volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent offered children vaccinations and distributed desperately needed aid Sunday, the first such assistance since January to reach thousands in a remote camp for the displaced on Syria’s border with Jordan. Residents said that teams from international organizations entered their desolate camp for the first time since it was set up over three years ago and where nearly 50,000 have been stranded in limbo.
Fadwa Baroud of the United Nations Office of the Resident Coordinator said it was the first time a U.N. aid convoy had accessed Rukban camp from inside Syria.
She said aid workers were in the Rukban area.
Before January, aid only reached the camp from Jordan and aid workers were barred from accessing the camp because of security concerns.
The Arab Syrian Red Crescent and the United Nations posted pictures of staff unloading trucks of lifesaving assistance and administering vaccines to children.
Residents posed with the aid trucks driving through the desolate camp, where 10,000 children are expected to be vaccinated.
The U.S.-led coalition fighting against Daesh (ISIS) militants said its local allies, a Syrian armed group known as Maghawir al-Thawra, provided security for the aid convoys.
Resident Abdel-Fatah al-Khaled, who also runs a camp school, said aid workers, including U.N. staff, were on the ground at the camp for the first time. “Before [January] the aid used to be distributed from the Jordanian side over the sand berms” or by rebel groups who resided in the camp, Khaled said. He said the distribution of food and winter clothes began late Saturday.
People started gathering in Rukban three years ago, fleeing Daesh militants and airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, Russia and Syria.
Jordan sealed its border and stopped regular aid deliveries in 2016 after a cross-border Daesh attack that killed seven Jordanian soldiers.
The attack, and other violence, fueled accusations that militants were hiding among camp residents and raised concern that deteriorating humanitarian conditions amounted to collective punishment.
The last aid delivery from Jordan was in January, leaving the camp’s residents dependent on goods largely smuggled from government-held areas.
The situation sharply deteriorated after the Syrian government blocked supply routes last month following a botched reconciliation deal with rebel groups in the area.
Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, has blamed the U.S. for the deterioration of the situation in Rukban, which is within a 55-square-kilometer “deconfliction zone” set up by U.S. forces stationed in the nearby Al-Tanf military base.
The U.S.-led coalition has denied such allegations and blamed Russia and the Syrian government instead.
“We continue to stand ready to enable future delivery of U.N. humanitarian relief to the people of Rukban until they are able to return home as we pursue our mission of an enduring defeat of [Daesh],” said U.K. Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, a deputy commander for the U.S.-led coalition.
The U.N. said aid deliveries would continue for up to four days, describing the condition in the camp as “critical” with reported shortages of basic commodities, protection concerns and increasing violence.
At least four people have died in the past month due to malnutrition and lack of medical care as regional powers traded blame.
Also Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition conducted joint patrols with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces along the borders with Turkey.
They were the second patrols in a matter of days following increased tension after Turkish artillery shelled Kurdish positions in northeast Syria.
“Sunday’s joint patrol with the SDF is the second of the week, after the first one was conducted by U.S. forces on Friday,” Col. Sean Ryan, the coalition spokesman, told the Associated Press in an email.
“The U.S. forces’ assurance patrols enables us to maintain safety and security in the region, but are not carried out on a routine basis.”
An SDF spokesman said the patrols were directly linked to recent tensions between the Kurds and Ankara.
Sunday’s patrols were headed toward Ras al-Ain, around 50 kilometers to the west of Derbassieh along the frontier, spokesperson Mustafa Bali said.
Meanwhile in Raqqa, a car bomb exploded near a military position, local authorities and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said. Daesh said it was behind the blast.
The explosion came a day after the assassination of a local council leader in the city, the former Syrian capital of the militant group’s self-declared “caliphate” that was seized a year ago by United States-backed Kurdish-led fighters.
Raqqa security forces said a civilian had been killed and several people injured, including civilians and fighters.
They said the blast caused “a large number” of casualties.
Daesh said in a statement that it had detonated the bomb, targeting fighters the YPG, the strongest element in the SDF.
The SDF is battling Daesh in one of its last patches of territory in Syria, along the north bank of the Euphrates close to the Iraqi border.
The militants took advantage of bad weather Sunday to attack SDF positions, killing a dozen fighters, the observatory reported.
Syrian state television reported that the Syrian army was assaulting the militants’ other remaining pocket of ground in the desert area in Swaida province, in southern Syria. Agencies
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