Syria's Rukban camp receives 'largest delivery so far' in US-assisted aid operation

Rukban residents tell The National situation in the remote displacement camp remains catastrophic

More than 16,000 textbooks for schoolchildren were a key part of the delivery to Rukban displacement camp in Syria. Photo: Syrian Emergency Task Force
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The remote Rukban camp for displaced people in southern Syria this week received its largest delivery of aid since a US-assisted operation ended a years-long blockade.

The Syrian Emergency Task Force, a Washington-based group that operates in Rukban, has been the main provider of aid to the camp through US Operation Syrian Oasis.

On Saturday, SETF delivered more than 16,000 textbooks for schoolchildren and a month's worth of food supplies, as well as fruit and vegetable seeds, and 70kg of fertiliser to support farming.

Residents of Rukban, who asked to remain anonymous due to tension between the camp and President Bashar Al Assad's regime, told The National that while the situation in the camp was still “catastrophic”, aid deliveries bring much-needed relief.

“We are besieged and normally we can't get these lentils – we have to pay a fortune to get it,” said one man, a father of three.

Another woman added: “Thank you for this aid … we need a lot of aid in the camp, especially in this cold weather, may God help us.”

The desert camp lies within a safe zone established by Washington and Russia near the Jordanian-Iraqi border, about 35km from the US garrison at Al Tanf and close to Jordan's Tower 22, where three American soldiers were killed in a drone attack by Iran-backed militants.

Access to humanitarian aid was first cut by the Jordanian government in 2016 and shifted to Damascus-based agencies under the UN umbrella, but the Assad regime and its Russian allies have blockaded the camp over claims it is harbouring anti-regime “terrorists”.

Rukban's population is made up entirely of civilians, most of whom are women and children, the majority under the age of 12, according to the SETF.

Ahmad Kindawi, SETF's humanitarian affairs co-ordinator operating in Rukban, told The National that this week's delivery of textbooks was a particularly important milestone.

“From my observation of the situation in Rukban, I can say there is a huge improvement in the education sector … we provided 16,000 textbooks for all grades from kindergarten to ninth grade and paid salaries for all the teachers.”

The group hopes to expand support for the camp's medical services, bringing in professionals, he added.

“Honestly, the most-needed things are the doctors," he said. "The camp has been without doctors for years.”

Operation Syrian Oasis utilises a little-known programme in US law that allows the military to assist in delivering privately donated aid “pending available space” on military vehicles.

The landmark mission, launched in June, circumvented the years-long Assad regime's blockade of the camp.

Stephen Rapp, former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues and a SETF board member, said the military-assisted operation “has been an important lifeline for thousands of innocent civilians”.

“It is important that everyone continues to support this humanitarian operation that helps ensure force protection for US forces and counters radicalisation,” Mr Rapp said.

Updated: February 23, 2024, 2:59 PM