Women and children protest conditions in Rukban camp in southeast Syria on the Jordanian border, March 23, 2022 (Rukban Network)

For the first time since displaced Syrians set up the Rubkan camp in the barren southeast of the country in autumn 2015, the US military has delivered humanitarian aid.

The camp was established by civilians who fled Islamic State attacks in Homs Province in central Syria. It has been besieged by Russia and the Assad regime since autumn 2018, when the main road was blocked.

Once the temporary home of 75,000 people, Rukban now has about 10,000. They have held out — despite the threats of starvation, lack of clean water and adequate shelter, and rudimentary medical care — because of the prospect of regime intimidation, detention, and even disappearance if they return to Homs.

Residents and activists have pleaded for years for relief from the US military, as Rukban is within the 55-km (34-mile) security zone set up around the American base at Tanf on the Iraqi border. However, not wanting to risk conflict with Russia, the military had refused.

In February 2022, the US military finally arranged emergency medical care at Tanf for some residents. In late August, a military mission visited Rukban for the first time.

However, the prohibition on aid was only lifted this week with the delivery of supplies purchased by the Washington-based Syrian Emergency Task Force. Nine pallets of aid were obtained in Iraq, delivered to US forces stationed at the al-Asad airbase in Anbar Province in western Iran, and flown by three US military aircraft to Tanf on Saturday.

A Rukban source confirmed on Tuesday that the aid — the first in more than a year — had arrived and more is expected in coming days.

The supplies include fertilizer, seeds, and irrigation equipment for residents to grow their own food. SETF also plans to provide schoolbooks and classroom supplies .

The US State Department and the Agency for International Development approved the transport of the aid on the military aircraft with excess space already scheduled to go to Tanf. US Central Command spokesperson Capt. Abigail Hammock confirmed that the military assisted “with the transportation of life-saving aid to the Rukban camp”.

SETF director Mouaz Moustafa said he hoped the US Government and the United Nations would now take direct action.

Because of obstruction by the Assad regime and Russia, only three aid convoys have reached Rukban during the siege and none since September 2019.

A UN operation plan, dated August 2022, sought to “regularize the delivery of much needed humanitarian assistance to the people in need inside Rukban”. However, it was subject to the the consent and cooperation of the Assad regime, and residents feared the true purpose was to press them to return to home areas.

See also UN Proposes 1st Aid Convoy in 3 Years to Syria’s Rukban Camp — But Plan Provokes Concerns

The SETF’s Moustafa summarizes:

At the end of the day, this is still not the United States government. It’s not the United Nations.

It’s American people who donate to an American organization that’s doing this. We’re hopeful that maybe this inspires a change in policy for the United Nations or the administration.