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Middle East france 24

Aid convoys arrive in besieged Syrian towns ahead of hoped-for ceasefire

© Louai Beshara, AFP| A Red Crescent aid convoy prepares to leave Damascus early on February 17.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-02-17

A convoy of 35 trucks carrying humanitarian goods entered the besieged area of Moudamiya Al Sham in the suburbs of Damascus on Wednesday, the Syrian state news agency said.

On Wednesday morning the Syrian Red Crescent said 100 trucks carrying flour, other food supplies and medicines were preparing to leave for five besieged areas.

The UN announced on Tuesday night that deliveries would be made to seven besieged areas, as UN envoy Staffan de Mistura held talks in Damascus aimed at restoring hope for a cessation of hostilities that world powers want in place by Friday.

About 40 trucks were headed for Moadimayet al-Sham, a rebel-held town near Damascus encircled by President Bashar al-Assad's forces, Muhannad al-Asadi of the Red Crescent told AFP.

Another 35 vehicles were to travel to Madaya and Zabadani, two other regime-besieged towns near Damascus, and 29 were to go to Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shiite towns in northwestern Idlib province besieged by rebels, he said.

Almost half a million people in Syria are in areas under siege, according to the UN.

Aid workers say several dozen people have died of starvation just in Madaya, which became a symbol of the plight of besieged Syrians after shocking images of starving residents spread last month.

'Duty' to allow aid

The UN said on Tuesday that Syria had approved aid deliveries to two other areas -- the rebel-held district of Kafr Batna outside Damascus and the eastern provincial capital of Deir Ezzor, where the regime holds parts of the city surrounded by jihadists from the Islamic State group.

It was unclear how aid would be delivered through IS-held territory to Deir Ezzor, though previously cargo planes have airdropped assistance to regime-held neighbourhoods.

"It is the duty of the government of Syria to want to reach every Syrian person wherever they are and allow the UN to bring humanitarian aid," De Mistura said on Tuesday in Damascus.

"Tomorrow we test this," he said.

A Syrian foreign ministry source angrily rejected talk of a test.

"We don't need anyone to remind us of our duties to our people," the source told the official SANA news agency.

Diplomats have been pressing the ceasefire deal as a step forward in efforts to end the nearly five-year conflict that has left more than 260,000 dead, devastated the country and forced millions from their homes.

A major international push to resolve the conflict, including Western and Arab nations that have largely backed Syria's opposition and Assad's key supporters Russia and Iran, was launched last year.

But peace talks between the regime and opposition in Geneva quickly collapsed earlier this month and a major regime offensive, backed by Russian air strikes, has continued in northern Aleppo province.

Air strikes on five medical facilities and two schools in northern Syria earlier this week killed at least 50 people, the UN said.

One of the strikes hit a hospital supported by charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing at least 11 people and prompting widespread condemnation.

Turkey push for ground force

MSF did not assign blame for the attack though a Britain-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said a suspected Russian strike had hit the hospital.

Moscow rejected any responsibility and Syria's UN envoy Bashar al-Jaafari on Tuesday lashed out at MSF.

"The so-called hospital was installed without any prior consultation with the Syrian government by the so-called French network called MSF which is a branch of the French intelligence operating in Syria," he told reporters in New York.

US President Barack Obama said the ceasefire would be difficult to achieve while Russia's bombing campaign continues.

"If Russia continues indiscriminate bombing of the sort that we've been seeing, I think it's fair to say that you're not gonna see any take-up by the opposition," he said Tuesday.

The situation in Syria has also been complicated by Turkey's launching this week of an assault on Kurdish forces who have been advancing in northern Syria.

Ankara has been shelling a Kurdish-led militia which it says is allied with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency on its soil for decades.

Turkey on Tuesday called for foreign ground forces to deploy in Syria, part of a longstanding push by the NATO member for a more robust response to the conflict.

On Wednesday Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan told A Haber television Ankara wanted to create a 10-kilometre (six-mile) "safe line" inside Syria that would include the flashpoint town of Azaz near the border.

Turkey has long pressed for a safe zone, backed up by a no-fly zone, inside Syria and has warned Kurdish forces it will not allow them to seize Azaz, which is held by rebel forces.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2016-02-17


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