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France, Russia send humanitarian aid to Syria for Ghouta victims

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The Antonov 124 cargo plane is carrying 50 tons of medical equipment and humanitarian supplies aid to Syria for Ghouta victims.

AFP, Châteauroux :
 France and Russia on Saturday despatched a plane carrying humanitarian aid to the ravaged former Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, which was retaken by government forces in April after a five-year siege.
A Russian Antonov 124 military cargo plane carrying 50 tons of medical aid and humanitarian supplies left the airport at the central French city of Chateauroux at 3am (0100 GMT), the airport's head Mark Bottemine told AFP.
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.
The plane is heading for Russia's Hmeimim air base in the west of Syria. It is the first joint humanitarian aid operation between Russia and a western country.
The aid will be distributed on Saturday under the supervision of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA).
"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 joint statement said.
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 cargo comprises medical equipment, tents, cooking utensils and blankets, said an AFP photographer who witnessed the plane being loaded.
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, on the fringes of the Syrian capital Damascus.
PARIS (Reuters) - France sent 50 tonnes of medical aid to government-controlled eastern Ghouta in Syria on Friday after Russia agreed to facilitate its delivery, raising hopes for future aid efforts, French officials said.
The aid, which will arrive on a Russian plane to a Russian military base in northwestern Syria from France on Saturday, comes after an agreement between President Emmanuel Macron and Russian leader Vladimir Putin following talks since May.
"This operation is very significant because it shows a willingness from the Russians to work with us on a matter of priority," said the French diplomatic source. "This area is crying out for help."
A joint Franco-Russian statement confirmed the accord.
Pro-government forces retook the eastern Ghouta region from rebels in April after besieging the region for several years and launching a final brutal bombing campaign with their Russian allies.
Little aid has entered eastern Ghouta, where about 500,000 people live, since April, although United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was able to deliver food and nutritional aid for some 25,000 people in early July.
Once in Syria the cargo will be distributed by OCHA in co-ordination with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
France has received assurances from Russia that all necessary approvals from Assad's government had been given for the convoy to make the journey from the north to eastern Ghouta and Paris does not expect the cargo to be used by Syrian authorities for political means, the officials said.
It would be first time a Western country has delivered aid to government-controlled areas with the help of Russia, the source said.
France cut off diplomatic ties with Damascus in 2011.
Macron has for several months attempted to nurture a dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Syria to break the deadlock on humanitarian aid. He considers it a first step to forging a wider political discussion with Russia that would ultimately bring together key regional and international players to end the seven-year civil war.
The French aid aims to help 500 seriously wounded people and another 15,000 with minor ailments. No French officials traveled with the cargo.
If the convoy is delivered smoothly, it could facilitate future U.N. aid efforts, which have often faced difficulties gaining approval or been held up by Syrian government forces, the officials said.
The aid worth about 400,000 euros ($469,000) is part of a 50 million euro commitment by Paris that has so far predominantly been used in the Raqqa region of northeastern Syria, where France has a military presence along with the United States.

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