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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Sides 'poles apart' on agreeing access to civilians trapped in Aleppo, UN Senior Adviser reports

8 December 2016 – Discussions on how to assist civilians caught in the crossfire inside war-ravaged Aleppo continue to be difficult "because the Member States that are supposed to help us get access [are] poles apart on what is happening in Syria," United Nations Senior Adviser Jan Egeland said today in Geneva.

"We are not having a united humanitarian diplomacy on the parties and we see that in a diminishing access on the ground," he told reporters after a meeting of the Humanitarian Access Task Force of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG).

The ISSG has established the respective taskforces on humanitarian aid delivery and a wider ceasefire. They have been meeting separately since early this year on a way forward in the crisis. Russia and the United States are the co-chairs of the taskforces and the ISSG, which also comprises the UN, the Arab League, the European Union and 16 other countries.

Mr. Egeland reported that the Syrian Government had approved a plan for access in order to reach 800,000 of the 930,000 people that the UN is trying to reach and that for the first time, eastern Aleppo is on the list of approved places. He acknowledged, however, that there has been a greater possibility of crossing a stable front line in November, when the UN was refused access.

He underscored that the UN has been trying to access east Aleppo every day since it was besieged on 7 July. Since then, three major plans have failed.

"I have never, in my many, many years of humanitarian negotiations, been in as difficult negotiations and as frustrating talks that produced nothing in spite of thousands of contacts with all of the parties, and it is with bitterness and frustration that we have to report that we have not been able to evacuate even the wounded," he announced.

In order to provide humanitarian assistance, cooperation is necessary from the Government of Syria, the Russian Federation, various armed opposition groups, opposition health directorates, and others who must all agree on where, how, what conditions, guarantees, protection standards, and logistics.

"If only one disagrees," he said, "the whole thing fails."

The hope for humanitarian corridors will only become a reality if there is a ceasefire. Meanwhile, the intense battle scene continues and the civilian population has dramatically moved its location.

Mr. Egeland called for a pause so that civilians remaining in east Aleppo would be able to leave safely, as well as for a better protection system for those who are able to leave. The UN has received reports about confiscated identification cards, arrests, and mal-treatment. The Senior Adviser lamented that such reports have been impossible to confirm without full access to the area.

Nor does the UN have full access to Government-controlled areas of western Aleppo, a result of which has been unconfirmed and mixed reports.

"Some say Aleppo is falling, some say Aleppo is liberated," the Senior Adviser reported.

As winter plunges the city into freezing temperatures at night, the UN and its affiliate agencies, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, are anxious over their ability to provide winter shelter to the hundreds of thousands living in "a totally war-ravaged area."

Members of the press questioned Mr. Egeland about the recent attack on a Russian hospital, the practical constraints of being able to access Aleppo, the some 700 wounded and sick children who remain in the city, and the status of talks between the United States and Russia.

Mr. Egeland condemned the recent attack that left several at the Russian hospital dead, adding that so far 770 health workers have been killed throughout the war. He also referred to "desperate appeals from inside Aleppo" and said that while Russia was committed to discussing how to organize evacuations, it would not promise a pause.

He shared that in the coming hours, stakeholders would concentrate on how to make evacuations possible and hoped that co-chairs of the United States-Russia talks would be able to provide "the beginning of something better."

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