Saturday 19 August 2017

Assad ignoring three quarters of UN requests to deliver aid

Regime falling a long way short on key condition ahead of peace talks on Syrian war

Syrian pro-government troops hold positions in the Syrian town of Ain al-Hanash near l-Bab in Aleppo’s eastern countryside earlier this week as regime forces have recaptured the area from Islamist jihadists. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Syrian pro-government troops hold positions in the Syrian town of Ain al-Hanash near l-Bab in Aleppo’s eastern countryside earlier this week as regime forces have recaptured the area from Islamist jihadists. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Richard Spencer in Beirut

The United Nations has admitted that the Assad regime is ignoring three quarters of all its requests to deliver aid in Syria, a key condition emerging for the opposition in advance of peace talks.

Negotiators for the rebels, due to start UN-sponsored peace talks with the regime in Geneva today, have demanded that previous security council resolutions on aid deliveries are followed as a term of taking part.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy who called the talks, said that he had passed on that demand to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.

But Stephen O'Brien, the UN's head of humanitarian aid, told the security council that of 113 requests to be allowed to make aid deliveries to "hard to reach" areas last year, only 10pc reached the civilians in need.

"Almost 75pc of requests went unanswered by the government of Syria," he said. "Such inaction is simply unacceptable for a member-state of the United Nations and a signatory of the United Nations charter."

The world's diplomats were heading for Geneva yesterday on the assumption that talks would begin.

Mr de Mistura is not attempting to launch round-the-table negotiations of the sort that failed badly almost exactly two years ago in the same place, the grand UN buildings.

Instead, the two main Syrian delegations will meet in separate rooms, with negotiators shuttling back and forth. The first aim is not to find a political resolution to the five-year war, but to "de-escalate" the violence, with a ceasefire being the most ambitious immediate aim.

The regime, with its backers Russia and Iran, have agreed to attend. However, the opposition, a wide-ranging coalition of Islamist and secular fighting groups on the ground, long-exiled politicians, and regime defectors, is still considering its position. It wants assurances that it will be the only recognised opposition body - the Russians are seeking to have the Kurdish group the PYD registered as part of the opposition delegation. It is also demanding that existing UN resolutions on ending attacks on civilians and allowing aid to besieged areas, the overwhelming majority of which are held by rebels and surrounded by pro-regime forces, be met.

Salem al-Meslet, the spokesman for the opposition High Negotiations Committee, said he had been assured that implementing the resolution was "non-negotiable".

"We are serious about participating in the negotiations, the ones who are hindering the start are those who are bombing and starving civilians," he said.

Recent regime victories in the coastal province of Latakia and the capture of Sheikh Miskin, a town near the Jordanian border in the south, mean it will be negotiating from a position of strength.

A series of international aid groups have claimed that those victories have coincided with a deliberate tightening of siege conditions by the regime, along with intensive Russian bombing from the air.

Recent statements by UN officials have made clear how civilians are being used as a target. Unicef this week said 47 schools were hit over the last year by bombardments of various sorts. Yacoub el-Hillo, the UN's Damascus representative, admitted the extent of the continuing abuses of the civilian population. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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