BEIRUT, Feb 17 – A convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid arrived outside a besieged Damascus suburb on Wednesday in a major, U.N.-backed deal to deliver aid to tens of thousands of trapped residents in several of Syria’s worst hit areas, a Reuters witness said.
Syrian state media earlier said that a convoy of 35 aid trucks had already entered the besieged area of Moudamiya Al Sham in the suburbs of the Syrian capital, but Reuters could not independently confirm that any aid had entered.
The Syrian government has approved access to seven besieged areas, the United Nations said after crisis talks in Damascus on Tuesday, a week ahead of a planned resumption of peace talks between Syria’s warring parties.
Meanwhile fighting and air strikes continued across the country on Wednesday.
A spokesman for the Red Crescent earlier said aid convoys were preparing to head for Madaya, Zabadani and Mouadamiya Al Sham near Damascus which have been under siege by government forces, and the villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province which are surrounded by rebel fighters.
Supplies included wheat and high-energy foods. A medical team would enter Kefraya and Al Foua, the spokesman said. A UN source said a convoy that left from Homs was now nearly half-way to the two villages.
Another resident source said an advance team had entered Madaya near the border with Lebanon where dozens have starved to death after months of siege by government forces and their allies.
The Syrian Red Crescent was coordinating with the U.N. on the aid deliveries.
The United Nations has demanded unhindered access to all besieged areas of the country, where it says hundreds of thousands of people are trapped by fighting and deliberate blockades by Syria’s various warring sides.
Dozens in Madaya have starved to death after months of siege by government forces and their allies.
Insurgents in control of Idlib have in turn surrounded Al Foua and Kefraya, where there have been increasing shortages of food and medical supplies.
In the city of Deir Al Zor in eastern Syria, parts of which are under siege by Daesh, unverified reports have said up to 20 people have died of starvation.
Deir Al Zor was one of the seven areas to which the aid convoys were expected to head within the next few days, the United Nations said. The Red Crescent did not mention Deir Al Zor on Wednesday.
Aid was delivered to Madaya, Al Foua and Kefraya last month as part of an agreement between warring sides.
Syria’s opposition says it will not negotiate with Damascus until sieges imposed by government forces and their allies have been lifted—one of many issues that led to a suspension of peace talks in Geneva earlier this month.
Talks are scheduled to resume on Feb. 25, but fighting continues unabated throughout the country, where 250,000 people have been killed in five years of war.