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By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, May 21 (Reuters) - The Red Cross said on Wednesday it begun a major distribution of emergency rations on both sides of the battle lines around the divided northern Syrian city of Aleppo, its first since October.
Syria's government finally gave approval this week for the plan, submitted in January, to feed 60,000 displaced people in rural areas, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer said.
"We have a major food distribution ongoing in Aleppo. It is the first time in months on that scale," Maurer told Reuters in Geneva. "It is on both sides of the front line."
Six thousand family food parcels were being distributed in rebel-held eastern areas of rural Aleppo, and nearly the same number in government-held areas to the south, he said.
In all, 60,000 people will benefit, ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said.
The operation, which was not previously announced, began on Tuesday and will continue for a few days, the spokesman said. Goods are being delivered by a three-truck convoy accompanied by ICRC officials and Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers.
"Distribution started on both sides, targeting IDPs (internally displaced people) from the barrel bombing campaign," Maurer said, referring to civilians who have fled bombs dropped by government planes on Syria's former commercial hub.
The ICRC delivery in Aleppo, which follows one in the besieged town of Barzeh near Damascus in February, should help to build confidence among the warring parties that its operation is "humanitarian and not politically tainted", Maurer said.
Maurer said that he had first presented the Aleppo plan to Syrian government officials in Damascus in January. "It is four months overdue," he added.
The Syrian relief operation is currently the ICRC's largest and aims to reach 1 million people each month in the second half of this year.
The agency appealed this month for greater access to civilians in rebel-held and besieged areas where the humanitarian situation was "catastrophic", especially in Aleppo and in suburbs of Damascus.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)