Children in the Rukban camp for displaced Syrians near the Jordanian border (File)
UPDATE, 1600 GMT:
The Assad regime has acknowledged the first death from coronavirus in Syria.
The Health Ministry said a woman died as soon as she was admitted to an emergency room.
The Ministry raised the official number of cases to nine.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: As Coronavirus and lack of medical care threaten more than 13,000 displaced civilians in the besieged Rukban camp, Russia and the Assad regime continue a propaganda campaign for their forced removal.
Russian and regime officials proclaimed in a joint statement on Saturday that the US is exploiting the “humanitarian situation” to send equipment to “terrorists”.
The statement asserted, “The US side seeks to make use of coronavirus spread and tries to exert pressure on the UN to pass shipments and equipment to the terrorists under the pretext of medical and humanitarian aid to the besieged persons in the camp.”
The declaration has a dual purpose: to cut off American support of the anti-Assad faction Maghawir al-Thawra, allied with US personnel at the Tanf base near the Iraq border, and to reinforce the blockade on food, medicines, and vital supplies to Rukban.
The Assad regime cut off the main route in September 2018 into Rukban, in a barren area of southeast Syria near the Jordanian border. Damascus has allowed only three aid shipments into the camp since January 2018. Russia has supported the siege with propaganda, disinformation, and pressure on the local council through meetings which demand the disbandment of the camp.
Jordan blocked the movement of goods across the border in June 2016, after an Islamic State suicide bomb killed several Jordanian personnel.
Shortages of food have brought skyrocketing prices and the threat of malnutrition and even starvation. The camp’s only clinic is rudimentary, with no doctor and no supplies of vital medicines.
This week the local council issued an urgent plea for the evacuation to Jordanian hospitals of five pregnant women, at or beyond full term, who need Caesarean sections. No action was taken, and one woman and her newborn baby are in critical condition.
Rukban once held more than 50,000 residents who fled homes in central Syria in 2015 amid Islamic State attacks. There are now about 13,000, after many have been forcibly transferred back to Homs Province because of the threat of starvation and death from lack of medical care.
The remaining civilians are holding out, fearing regime detention, forced conscription, and intimidation and facing loss of property in their home areas.
Several men have been killed in the shelters in Homs Province by regime forces. Hundreds have “disappeared” for interrogation and detention.
Fearing a clash with Moscow, the US personnel at Tanf have not intervened to break the blockade.
The Russian-regime statement on Saturday insisted, “Russia and Syria have taken all needed procedures to evacuate the besieged people in the camp.”
Pushing aside residents’ fear, the officials maintained:
Once again, we declare with all responsibility that for every Syrian who wishes to enter the government-controlled territory the doors are always open.
All the necessary conditions for decent accommodation have already been created. Refugees from the At-Tanf zone will be provided with the necessary humanitarian, medical, and social assistance.