France has sent humanitarian aid to a government-controlled area near Damascus after Russia agreed to facilitate its delivery. It's the first joint humanitarian aid effort in Syria between Russia and a Western country.
France and Russia have agreed to send 50 metric tons of medical aid to government-controlled eastern Ghouta in Syria, French officials said on Friday.
A Russian cargo plane arrived late Friday in Chateauroux in central France to take the aid, which includes medical supplies and other essential goods, to a Russian military base in northwestern Syria.
It will then be transported to eastern Ghouta, which the Syrian government retook from rebel forces in April.
Once in Syria, the cargo will be distributed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
"The aim of this project is to enable civilian populations better access to aid," according to a joint Franco-Russian statement. "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, where international humanitarian law must be fully respected."
The French aid is worth about €400,000 ($469,000) and it aims to help 500 seriously wounded people and another 15,000 with minor ailments.
More aid efforts to come?
France has received assurances from Russia that the Syrian government will provide all the necessary approvals for the convoy to make the journey to Damascus. Paris also does not expect the aid to be used by Syrian authorities for political means.
The cooperation comes after months of talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron. It is the first time a western country has delivered aid to government-controlled areas with Russia's help.
No French officials traveled with the cargo. France cut off diplomatic ties with Damascus in 2011, and Macron has accused the regime of President Bashir Assad of a chemical weapons attack in Douma, a city northeast of Damascus, in April.
Paris has made a €50 million commitment for aid to Syria, but most of it has been used in the Raqqa region, where France has a military presence.
Pro-government forces recaptured eastern Ghouta after besieging the region for several years as part of Syria's seven-year civil war. Forces launched a final brutal bombing assault in April with the help of their Russian allies.
Since April, little aid has entered the region, where around 500,000 people live.
If the delivery and distribution of the aid runs smoothly, this could make way for more UN aid efforts, which have often faced obstacles getting approved by the Syrian government, officials said.
dv/jm (AFP, Reuters)