Aid arrives in Syria as Putin, Macron discuss relief mission to Ghouta



CHÂTEAUROUX: Humanitarian aid sent by France and Russia arrived in Syria on Saturday as the two countries’ leaders discussed a joint mission to distribute much-needed relief supplies in a ravaged former rebel enclave.

The joint humanitarian aid operation — the first between Russia and a western country — was agreed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and French leader Emmanuel Macron during talks in Saint Petersburg in May.

A Russian Antonov-124 Ruslan military cargo plane carrying more than 40 tons of medical aid and humanitarian supplies arrived at the Russian military base in Hmeimim after departing from the central French city of Chateauroux early Saturday, the Russian defence ministry said.

The aid, including medicine, medical equipment, clothes and tents, will be given to residents of Eastern Ghouta on the fringes of the capital Damascus, which was retaken by government forces in April after a five-year siege.

It will be distributed under the supervision of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA).

Russian representatives and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent will also participate in the process.

The supplies will also be distributed to hospitals run by Red Crescent, Moscow said.

On Saturday, Putin and Macron discussed “humanitarian aspects of the Syria settlement” including the joint mission “to render assistance to the population of Eastern Ghouta” and other international issues, the Kremlin said.

Undertaken as part of a UN Security Council resolution, “the aim of this project is to enable civilian populations better access to aid,” a joint Franco-Russian statement said earlier.

“Humanitarian assistance is an absolute priority and must be distributed in accordance with principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence across all Syrian territory without exception,” it added.

France had secured “guarantees” from Russia that the Syrian regime would not obstruct the distribution of the aid, and that it would not be misappropriated or diverted for political purposes, the foreign ministry said.

More than 1,700 civilians were killed during the Syrian regime’s operation in Eastern Ghouta in March and April.

According to the Russian military, more than 160,000 people, both military and civilians, were evacuated from the region.

The medical aid is aimed at some 500 people who have been seriously injured and the 15,000 others who have lighter injuries during the fighting in Eastern Ghouta.