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Fighting Forces UN to Suspend Food Airdrops to Besieged Syrian City

By Lisa Schlein January 17, 2017

The United Nations World Food Program reports it has been forced to suspend life-saving airdrops of food to residents of the besieged Syrian city of Deir Ezzor because of intense fighting between Syrian government forces and Islamic State militants.

The last airdrops into Deir Ezzor were on Sunday. World Food Program spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said they have been put on hold for security and operational reasons. She cited heavy fighting around the landing zone and in parts of the city where food distributions are taking place.

"WFP partners on the ground simply cannot expose the lives of the 60 volunteers who are in that open landing zone and would receive the supplies and distribute them. It is simply too dangerous to do this now," she said.

WFP has conducted 177 airdrops into government-held Deir Ezzor since April. The U.N. agency has provided nearly 3,300 tons of food and other aid for the 110,000 residents of this city, which is surrounded by Islamic State militants.

While the operation is proving to be a lifeline for the trapped inhabitants, WFP told VOA it has drawbacks.

"Because airdrops only drop off small amounts, you have to keep on doing it on an almost continuous basis. If we do a convoy, like to the other areas, with one convoy you are able to bring in food for a month. With airdrops...we have to keep on going continuously. So, we hope that we will be able to do this," said Luescher.

Deir Ezzor is only a small part of a huge aid operation run by the World Food Program throughout conflict-ridden Syria. Every month, the agency delivers food for 4 million people.

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