UN's Egeland sees possible turning point as aid reaches beseiged Syrian areas

by Reuters
Thursday, 16 June 2016 13:31 GMT

A Red Crescent and United Nations aid convoy carrying food aid, arrives near the Grand Douma mosque in the rebel held besieged town of Douma, eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

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About 592,000 Syrians are living under siege and millions more need humanitarian assistance

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By Tom Miles

GENEVA, June 16 (Reuters) - Aid to Syrian cities has made significant progress, with a 48-hour truce in the city of Aleppo and access to almost all besieged areas marking a potential turning point, U.N. humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said on Thursday.

About 592,000 Syrians are living under siege and millions more need humanitarian assistance. The U.N. says improved conditions on the ground will also help its efforts to broker a deal to stop the war and usher in a transitional government.

"Several (countries) including Russia feel that a psychological barrier has been broken by being able to go to (the besieged towns of) Daraya and Douma," Egeland told reporters after chairing a meeting of an international humanitarian task force for Syria.

He said a large convoy is ready to go to the besieged Homs suburb of al Waer, where people have recently died for lack of humanitarian aid, and convoys are expected to reach 50,000 people in Afrin in northern Aleppo and 25,000 in the Damascus suburb of Kafr Batna later on Thursday.

"I really hope that this was a turning point for our access to besieged areas and also to hard-to-reach areas, but we shouldn't be naive, the war is continuing and in a war zone everything is fragile."

The U.N. hopes to get to the final two besieged areas that it has not reached, Arbin and Zamalka in rural Damascus, in the next few days, Egeland said.

He added that the Aleppo truce was a "confidence building measure" and a first step and he hoped it would be extended.

Syria's government has given intermittent and often conditional approval to aid convoys, which the opposition says is a ploy designed to defuse international pressure for full humanitarian access, which it is obliged to grant under international law.

Egeland said despite some recent positive momentum, not a single siege had been lifted and the fighting had worsened, and there were no guarantees that aid access, which was largely opened up by U.S. and Russian pressure, would continue.

"We are acutely aware that the access we have now could end tomorrow," he said, adding that a plan for air delivery of aid remained on the table if land access dried up.

"In many ways the logical next step is for us to get help from the sponsors of the parties to say: 'end the sieges of the civilian population'," he said, referring to countries with influence on the warring sides.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey and Hugh Lawson)

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