Despite U.S., Russia Support, Convoy Blocked From Damascus Suburb
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In Syria, government forces have blocked an aid convoy backed by the U.S. and Russia. NPR's Alison Meuse reports from Beirut that the rival superpowers have been unable to bring promised relief to besieged communities.
ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: Last week's aid convoy would have been the first to reach Daraya since government forces besieged the Damascus suburb in November 2012. A nationwide truce backed by the U.S. and Russia was supposed to facilitate such aid deliveries.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).
MEUSE: In video shot by activists in this Daraya, a mother says we've gone days without bread. The kids are collapsing from dizziness.
Civilians were enraged the aid was negotiated to include medicine, but not food. And yet, hundreds gathered under the blazing sun last week to wait for the convoy, which never came.
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MEUSE: What they did get was shelling, breaking weeks of fragile truce. Footage from the scene purports to show two of the mangled victims. Local anti-regime activist Malak Refaie (ph) says they were a father and his grown son returning home disappointed after the convoy was blocked by government forces.
MALAK REFAIE: They shelled the place where the people gathered waiting for the convoy.
MEUSE: Jan Egeland heads the the U.S. and Russia-backed task force that secured the permissions for the convoy. He calls what transpired a total debacle for diplomacy.
JAN EGELAND: For five hours on this last government checkpoint, we had to wait while there was frantic diplomatic activity from the U.N., from the Russians.
MEUSE: In the end, the mission was aborted. Egeland says Daraya is among six areas where no aid has passed, all surrounded by regime forces. But opposition groups also obstruct aid to places like Kefraya. That northern village is besieged by al-Qaida and allied rebel factions. I reached Iyad Youssef (ph) whose family is trapped there.
IYAD YOUSSEF: About what the people are eating there - everything is from the nature like the grass, trees and some animals. A lot of people died because of the lack of medical care.
MEUSE: Egeland hopes the outcry over Daraya will be a wake-up call for all sides and mark a return to humanitarian principles. But on the ground, the fragile truce is unraveling. Daraya activist Refaie says regime forces have resumed regular shelling, targeting the farmland where people grow crops to survive. Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.