Syria: UN says aid convoys unable to reach besieged areas despite US-Russia deal on ceasefire
15 September 2016 – The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria today said the ceasefire following last Friday's Russian-American agreement is largely holding but that desperately-awaited humanitarian convoys are unable to move due to a delay in getting permits from the Syrian Government.
"It is particularly regrettable because […] we are losing time," Staffan de Mistura told a press briefing in Geneva. "These are days which we should have used for convoys to move with the permit to go because there is no fighting," he stressed.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Syria is one of the most complex and dynamic humanitarian crises in the world today. Since March 2011, more than a quarter of a million Syrians have been killed and over one million have been injured. 4.8 million Syrians have been forced to leave the country, and 6.5 million are internally displaced, making Syria the largest displacement crisis globally.
In 2016, an estimated 13.5 million people, including six million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance. Of these 5.47 million people are in hard-to-reach areas, including close to 600,000 people in 18 besieged areas.
The US and Russia are the co-chairs of the diplomatic grouping known as the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which comprises the UN, the Arab League, the European Union and 16 other countries. In Geneva, the taskforces on humanitarian aid delivery and a ceasefire – created by the ISSG – have been meeting separately since early this year on a way forward in the crisis.
At today's briefing, Mr. de Mistura said that the agreement between the US and Russia on the cessation of hostilities in Syria last Friday was a "game-changer" because violence has been reduced substantially.
"The reduction of violence, and you will be having further reports we will get after we verify today, is by and large […] holding; in fact it has been substantial," he said.
The "second dividend" of the Russian-American agreement has been humanitarian access, he said. Apart from seeing no more bombs or mortar shelling taking place, the agreement allows for humanitarian access.
But the Syrian Government has not issued permits for the five areas the UN is ready to reach. "We cannot let days of this reduction of violence to be wasted by not moving forward on that," Mr. de Mistura stated.
Meanwhile, Jan Egeland, the Advisor to the Special Envoy, reiterated "the good news is that our people on the ground confirmed that the cessation of hostilities is largely holding, the killing has been greatly reduced, in fact no reports on civilian killings the last 24 hours. Attacks on schools, attacks on hospitals have stopped."
"The bad news is that we are not using this window of opportunity so far to reach all of these places with humanitarian assistance, like we did when this humanitarian task force was born out of the February agreement on the cessation of hostilities," he said.
In addition to eastern Aleppo, UN convoys, if they receive permits, are ready to go to places like Moadameya, to Al-Waer, to Talbiseh to Douma, to all of the besieged areas close to Damascus, close to Homs, and elsewhere, he explained.
The deal is "simple," said Mr. Egeland: "Well-fed grown men, please stop putting political, bureaucratic, and procedural roadblocks [before] brave humanitarian workers that are willing to go to serve women, children, wounded civilians in besieged and crossfire areas."
The convoys have been waiting and sleeping at the border now for 48 hours so they could go on a minute's notice, he underscored.
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