Russia says coordinating fresh convoy to Syria's besieged Ghouta

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Russia's defence ministry on Tuesday said its officials were discussing with international humanitarian organisations a plan to send a fresh aid convoy on Thursday to Syria's rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

The United Nations said a convoy delivering desperately needed aid to the town of Douma in the besieged enclave on Monday was forced to cut its mission short amid shelling.

"Following the humanitarian convoy to Douma, we discussed measures to coordinate new humanitarian convoys to Eastern Ghouta, including one planned for Thursday," Russian agencies reported General Vladimir Zolotukhin as saying.

Zolotukhin, a spokesman for Russia's Syria reconciliation centre, said agreement was reached on "a meeting at which the wishes already expressed by (humanitarian aid) organisers will be discussed in detail," RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Russia has said the first international convoy to the area delivered 247 tonnes of medical aid and food to Douma.

On Monday evening, the Russian army called for "all the heads of armed groups in Eastern Ghouta to allow the safe passage of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid."

Moscow had earlier offered safe passage to non-combatants wishing to leave Eastern Ghouta during daily "humanitarian pauses."

But the UN says no Syrian civilians have left the enclave since the first break in fighting took effect last week.

Damascus and Moscow have accused rebels of preventing civilians from leaving in order to use them as human shields.

The Syrian regime, supported by Russia, began an unprecedented aerial offensive in Eastern Ghouta on February 18.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the number of civilians killed since the assault began at more than 780, including 170 children.

The bombing campaign has been accompanied by a ground operation that has allowed loyalist forces to take control of 40 percent of the rebel enclave.

© 2018 AFP

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