UN has 'problem' getting aid to Syria, Assad blamed

2016-09-15 16:11
UN special envoy of the Secretary General for Syria Staffan de Mistura. (AP)

UN special envoy of the Secretary General for Syria Staffan de Mistura. (AP)

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Beirut - The United Nations faces "a problem" in shipping humanitarian aid into Syria, the UN envoy for the war-torn country said on Thursday, pinning the blame on the lack of authorisation from Bashar Assad's government that has even disappointed Russia, the Syrian president's key backer.

Staffan de Mistura said a US-Russia-brokered ceasefire deal agreed on last week has largely reduced the violence since it came into effect on Monday, but the humanitarian aid flow that was expected to follow has not materialised.

De Mistura said 40 aid trucks are ready to move and that the UN would prioritise delivery to the embattled, rebel-held eastern neighbourhoods of the northern city of Aleppo.

However, the Syrian government has not provided needed "facilitation letters", or permits, to allow for the start of the convoys, de Mistura said. He said the government had agreed on September 6 - before the ceasefire deal was signed - to allow aid into five areas, but the authorisations still haven't come.

Aside from the reducing the bloodshed, the "second dividend" of the US-Russia deal is humanitarian access, de Mistura told reporters in Geneva. "That is what makes a difference for the people, apart from seeing no more bombs or mortar shelling taking place."

"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.

Jan Egeland, the top humanitarian aid official in de Mistura's office, said the "good news" from the cessation of hostilities was that the bloodshed has dropped - and that "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.

'Simple appeal'

"Our appeal is the following - it's a simple one," 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 had been the centre of fighting over the 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 neighbourhoods under siege.

Over 2 000 people were killed in 40 days of fighting in Aleppo until the ceasefire went into effect on Monday. 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.

Ceasefire holding

Earlier on Thursday, activists said the ceasefire was still holding despite some violations. The Observatory 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.

The truce does not include the Islamic State group. The US-led coalition, Russia and the Syrian government have been carrying out air raids against the extremist group.

Also not included in the truce is the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Fatah al-Sham Front which was formerly known as the Nusra Front.

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