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Sunday 25 February 2018

UN struggle to get aid moving in Syria despite ceasefire

Free Syrian Army fighters patrol in Jarablus, Syria (AP)
Free Syrian Army fighters patrol in Jarablus, Syria (AP)

The United Nations faces "a problem" in shipping humanitarian aid into Syria, its envoy for the country has said.

Staffan de Mistura put the blame squarely on a lack of authorisation from Bashar Assad's government that has even disappointed the Syrian president's key backer: Russia.

Mr de Mistura said a US-Russia brokered cease-fire deal agreed last week has largely reduced the violence since it came into effect on Monday, but the humanitarian aid flows that were expected to follow have not materialised.

He said 40 aid trucks are ready to move and the UN would prioritise the embattled, rebel-held eastern areas of the northern city of Aleppo.

The Syrian government has not provided the "facilitation letters" or permits needed to allow the start of the convoys, Mr de Mistura said.

He said the government had agreed on September 6 - before the cease-fire deal was signed - to allow aid into five areas, but the authorsation has not come.

Aside from the reducing the bloodshed, the "second dividend" of the US-Russia deal is humanitarian access.

"That is what makes a difference for the people apart from seeing no more bombs or mortar shelling taking place," Mr de Mistura said, speaking in Geneva.

"On that one, we have a problem," he added. "It is particularly regrettable ... These are days which we should have used for convoys to move with the permits to go because there is no fighting."

"The Russian Federation is agreeing with us," he said.

Earlier, activists said the ceasefire was still holding despite some violations.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces and opposition fighters were ready to withdraw from the Castello road, a main artery into Aleppo, to hand it over to Russian troops.

It said government forces will not start pulling out until the rebels begin to do the same.


Syrian opposition activists have said an airstrike on the eastern town of Mayadeen, held by the Islamic State group, has killed at least four people and wounded dozens.

That casualty toll is according to Deir el-Zour 24, an activist collective. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrike killed seven people.

Mayadeen is in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, near the Iraqi border. IS is not included in the US-Russia brokered truce and t he US-led coalition, Russia and the Syrian government have been carrying out air raids against the extremist group.


Jan Egeland, the top humanitarian aid official in Mr de Mistura's office, said the "good news" from the cessation of hostilities was that the bloodshed has dropped and "attacks on schools, attacks on hospitals have stopped".

The "bad news", he said, was a lack of a green light for UN trucks to cross front lines.

"Our appeal is the following - it's a simple one," Mr Egeland said. "Can well-fed, grown men please stop putting political, bureaucratic and procedural roadblocks for brave humanitarian workers who are willing and able to go to serve women, children, wounded civilians in besieged and crossfire areas?"

"If they do that, we're willing and able to go to all these places in the next few days - and we are very hopeful that we will indeed be able to do so," he added.

Aleppo has been the centre of fighting over past months and Syrian government forces and their allies launched a wide offensive earlier this month, capturing several areas south of the city and putting eastern rebel-held areas under siege.

Over 2,000 people were killed in 40 days of fighting in Aleppo until the ceasefire went into effect. The dead include 700 civilians, among them 160 children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. .

"No aid has arrived in Aleppo. The regime is refusing to allow aid into Aleppo," said Aleppo-based activist Baraa al-Halaby.

Syria's state news agency Sana said opposition fighters opened fire at a location along the Castello road that was being prepared for Syrian Arab Red Crescent representatives. The report said two people guarding the location were wounded.

Sana also reported violations of the cease-fire in the north-west villages of Foua, saying sniper fire by insurgents wounded a Syrian boy there. It also said three shells were fired at the government-held southern village of Hadar.

The opposition reported 29 violations by government forces, including shelling, air raids and heavy machine gunfire.

Meanwhile, in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, clashes and shelling over the past 24 hours between government forces and the Islamic State group in the provincial capital, also called Deir el-Zour, killed at least three people, including a child, according to activists and state media.


Russia wants the UN Security Council to endorse the Syrian ceasefire agreement that it brokered together with the United States.

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he hopes the Security Council will adopt a resolution endorsing the agreement at next week's high-level General Assembly meeting, which draws leaders from around the globe.

He said: "I think we need to adopt it on the 21st" - a reference to the summit-level Security Council meeting on Syria.


Press Association

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