1st aid convoy in months to besieged area near Syria capital

BEIRUT — The United Nations said Wednesday the first humanitarian convoy in months has entered a besieged suburb east of the Syrian capital carrying aid and food supplies to some 7,000 people.

The convoy entered Nashabiyah, a town about 19 kilometers (12 miles) east of Damascus, and is one of a number of towns in the besieged eastern Ghouta area. It is the first humanitarian aid convoy to enter the region, controlled by opposition rebels and home to nearly 400,000 residents, since the end of November.

"It is way overdue," said Linda Tom, of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in Damascus.

The Syrian government has not been granting permission for such convoys. Meanwhile, government troops have intensified a military campaign against eastern Ghouta, renewing a push to seize the area held by the rebels since 2012.

The U.N. had warned of catastrophic conditions in eastern Ghouta, calling for a cease-fire to allow aid. But the military offensive continued.

Tom said the government only granted permission to Nashabiyah. The convoy of nine trucks contained medicine, food and nutritional aid.

In recent weeks, violence has flared across Syria in a new bout of violence that has shattered "de-escalation" agreements sponsored by Russia, the Syrian government ally.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said he will order strikes in Syria if there is "proven evidence" that President Bashar Assad's government used chemical weapons against civilians.

Macron told reporters on Tuesday evening that France "will strike the place where they are launched or where they are prepared."

He acknowledged that French intelligence services don't currently have the necessary proof.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been reports of suspected chlorine attacks in Syria — including in eastern Ghouta and in rebel-held Idlib in late January and February. Several were treated for breathing problems.

France said chemical analysis of a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria last April bore "the signature" of Assad's government.


Associated Press writer Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.

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