UN laments shelling as aid reaches Syrian towns

2016-06-21 21:04
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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Geneva - President Bashar Assad's government has allowed more humanitarian aid to reach besieged cities and towns around Syria, only to bombard those same areas before and after the convoys arrived, the United Nation's envoy to Syria said on Tuesday.

Speaking by videoconference to the UN General Assembly plenary in New York, Staffan de Mistura detailed his office's efforts to help shepherd aid to embattled Syrians, bring government and opposition envoys back to peace talks and buck up a fragile ceasefire - all aimed at ending Syria's civil war, now in its sixth year, that has left at least 250 000 dead.

De Mistura said that while access to hard-to-reach and besieged areas has improved, reaching an estimated 300 000 people compared with zero only a year ago, it is not nearly enough and has come with added complications.

"There has been a trend in the last weeks that the very areas where there has been a breakthrough of delivering humanitarian aid to besieged areas have been then shelled, before and after the convoys have reached all the parties," de Mistura said from Geneva.

He also detailed his hopes to revive indirect peace talks between the government and opposition groups. He has convened them three times already this year, but with no progress toward a political transition for Syria.

De Mistura repeated that it was still premature to set a date for new talks, but noted the deadline of early August set by the co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group for an agreement.

"The window of opportunity is coming quickly to a close unless we maintain alive the cessation of hostilities, we increase the humanitarian aid, we come to some common understanding about transition so we can have, hopefully in July, intra-Syrian talks not about principles but about concrete steps toward political transitions. This is what we are aiming at and that's what we will be able to reach," de Mistura said.

Meanwhile, he added that a truce between Assad's forces and rebel fighters brokered by the U.S. and Russia is "heavily challenged" in places like Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo, but overall fighting remains less than before it was reached in February.

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said as a result of the fighting the life expectancy in Syria has dropped by 20 years since the beginning of the war. He said half the country's population has now been forcibly displaced and 13.5 million people remain in urgent need of humanitarian protection and assistance, with 80% of Syrians living in poverty.

He said humanitarian efforts were further hampered by a lack of funding despite generous pledges made at a conference in London in February, with only a quarter of that money becoming available so far.

"Pledges are one thing - but frankly it's your cash that matters. It's that which buys the programs and services that actually save and protect innocent lives," O'Brien said.

Read more on:    syria

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