Aid convoy headed for Syria's besieged Al-Waer: UN

AFP , Thursday 16 Jun 2016

Jan Egeland, Senior Advisor to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, speaks about the International Syria Support Group's Humanitarian Access Task Force at the European headquarters of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, June 16, 2016 (Photo: AP)

A large aid convoy is ready to go to Al-Waer, a besieged area in Syria's Homs governorate, and is expected to bring in desperately needed aid Thursday, the UN said.

"We are ready loaded with a large convoy to go to the besieged town of Al-Waer," Jan Egeland, who heads a UN-backed international humanitarian taskforce for the war-ravaged country, told reporters.

If the aid convoy does get through, it would be of "great significance", he said, pointing out that the rebel-held town in Homs governorate, encircled by government troops, had been "without supplies for more than three months."

"Conditions in Al-Waer... are terrible. People have died in Al-Waer because of lack of humanitarian supplies of late," he said.

Last week, aid finally reached the besieged town of Daraya for the first time since 2012 and Douma for the first time since 2014.

The UN says some 588,000 Syrians live in 18 besieged areas across the country, most surrounded by government forces.

The list until recently included 19 areas, but Zebdin, with its some 5,000 inhabitants, was removed after the government forces encircling it took control of the town, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency, told AFP.

Egeland said that if the delivery to Al-Waer goes through as planned Thursday, after all permits were finally granted, the UN will have delivered aid to 16 of Syria's 18 besieged areas since mid-February.

And he hoped deliveries to the remaining two areas, Arbin and Zamalka in the rural suburbs of Damascus, could take place in the "coming days".

Egeland said the UN estimates there are about 39,000 people trapped in the two areas, but said the Syrian government "claims there are far fewer there."

While celebrating the prospect of partially or fully reaching all of the besieged areas in Syria this year, after reaching only two during 2015, Egeland acknowledged that the increased access "could end tomorrow."

"We cannot continue this stop-go... We have to have sustained access and the sieges on the civilian populations have to be lifted," he said.

In addition to the planned delivery to Al-Waer, Egeland said large convoys were headed Thursday to the besieged aread of Kafr Batna in rural Damascus, and to Afrin, which is not besieged but considered hard to reach, in northern Aleppo.

"So today alone, we hope to reach 110,000 people in besieged and hard-to reach areas, with more than 100 trucks and vehicles," he said.

Egeland also hailed a 48-hour truce that took hold Thursday in Syria's war-torn Aleppo city, urging all sides "to use this window of opportunity" to try to cement a broader and more long-lasting halt in the violence.

Aleppo has seen some of the worst fighting in a war that has killed more than 280,000 people, but there is deep scepticism that the latest halt to fighting in the northern city will last.

Peace talks aimed at ending the five-year conflict have stalled and the February 27 countrywide ceasefire between the regime and non-jihadist rebels lies in tatters.

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