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'Modest but real progress' in Syria aid deliveries: UN

AFP , Thursday 21 Apr 2016
UN Envoy
UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura attends a meeting with the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) during Syria peace talks at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland Thursday, March 17, 2016 (Photo: AP)
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The UN's Syria envoy said Thursday there had been "modest but real progress" in humanitarian aid access in the war-ravaged country, voicing hope this could add momentum to faltering peace talks.

Staffan de Mistura said more than 560,000 people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas in Syria had been reached with aid since the beginning of the year -- an increase of more than 100,000 in two weeks.

He said 220,000 of the half-million people living under sieges imposed by the government, armed opposition forces and Islamic State jihadists, had so far been reached.

The numbers did not however include a major push on Thursday, when the Red Cross sent a 65-truck convoy of food and medicines to the besieged rebel-held town of Rastan, marking the first aid to reach the 120,000 residents there since 2012.

"There has been a modest but real progress regarding the humanitarian situation in Syria," de Mistura told reporters in Geneva following a meeting with the UN-backed humanitarian taskforce for Syria.

But he stressed it was "not enough for us to feel comfortable at all".

The increased relief came after the main Syrian opposition walked away from UN-backed peace talks this week in protest over surging violence and stalled humanitarian aid.

De Mistura refused to discuss the peace talks, beyond saying that "if humanitarian aid increases... that would certainly help the political discussions."

He hailed Wednesday's evacuation of more than 500 people in need of life-saving medical attention and their families from four besieged towns -- two of which are held by the government and two by rebels.

The UN envoy also pointed out that the World Food Programme had managed to make eight successful airdrops over the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, besieged by the Islamic State group.

So far, some 65,000 of the city's 200,000 residents had received aid, he said, adding that WFP now planned to double its airdrop efforts.

But he also denounced Damascus for continuing to remove medical equipment and medicine from aid convoys.

"This frankly is not only worrisome but unacceptable according to international law," he said.

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