Displaced Syrians in the Rukban camp near the Jordanian border (File)

An aid convoy has finally reached displaced Syrians in the besieged Rukban camp in the southeast of the country.

Local sources told EA on Thursday of the convoy, only the third allowed by the Assad regime since January 2018. The spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Heddin Haldorsson, confirmed the reports.

One of EA’s sources estimated that the aid will be enough for about 3000 families. He/she said it included flour, sugar, oil, salt, lentils, pasta, and rice.

Col. Muhanad al-Talaa, the commander of the US-backed rebel faction Maghawir al-Thawra, told The National, “The UN convoy along with the Red Crescent entered the camp [Thursday] morning.”

Talaa said aid distribution will begin Friday: “Those who want to stay in the camp will get non-food supplies, such as medical, electric supplies, and blankets to prepare them for the upcoming winter season.”

He said the UN will organize transport for any residents who want to go to regime-held Homs Province.

The Assad regime, backed by Russia, has tried to force residents to return to home areas through the siege, imposed last September by cutting off the main route into the camp near the Jordanian border.

See also The Choice for Rukban’s Besieged: Starve or Risk Detention by Regime

The siege has been reinforced by Jordan’s cutoff of the border since an Islamic State suicide bombing in June 2016. The US military has refused to provide any assistance, even though Rukban lies within a 55-km (34-mile) security zone around the American base at Tanf on the Iraqi border.

More than 50,000 people, fleeing Islamic State attacks on their home areas in 2015, once lived in the barren area of Rukban, also known as “The Berm”. However, with the threat of starvation and death from the lack of food, medicine, and other supplies, many have finally given in to regime pressure and departed — Haldorsson said about 15,000 remain in Rukban.

In February, soon after the last aid convoy, a UN survey found that more than 90% of residents wanted to leave Rukban. However, almost all said they feared detentions, forced conscription, and harassment by the regime if they risked the return to home areas.

Many of those still in the camp have asked for transfer to opposition-held northwest Syria, a request refused by the regime.

The UN carried out another survey in the camp last week. Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s Syria humanitarian chief, said, “A little bit more than a third of them want to leave,” but 47% still want to stay because of their fears about regime officials.

Syria Daily, August 23: UN Mission to Rukban Met With Scepticism and Concern