By Stephanie Nebehay
The United Nations plans to make its first air drops of food aid in Syria, to Deir al-Zor, a town of 200,000 besieged by Islamic State militants, the chair of a UN humanitarian task force says.
UN aid agencies do not have direct access to areas held by Islamic State, including Deir al-Zor, where civilians are facing severe food shortages and sharply deteriorating conditions.
Jan Egeland, speaking to reporters in Geneva on Thursday, a day after UN aid convoys reached five areas said the UN's World Food Program (WFP) had a "concrete plan" for carrying out the Deir al-Zor operation in coming days.
He said the WFP hoped to make progress reaching "the poor people inside Deir al-Zor, which is besieged by Islamic State. That can only be done by air drops," said Egeland.
"It's a complicated operation and would be in many ways the first of its kind," Egeland said, giving no details of the air operation which is far more costly than land convoys.
Deir al-Zor is the main town in a province of the same name. The province links Islamic State's de facto capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa with territory controlled by the militant group in neighbouring Iraq.
Egeland chaired a three-hour meeting of the humanitarian task force on Syria, where he said that many member states pledged support for the attempt to reach Deir al-Zor, citing "excellent cooperation" between Russia and the United States.
Russia is Syria's main ally in the five-year war, while Western and Arab states support rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad. UN aid agencies say they do not have access to areas held by Islamic State.
In the past 24 hours, 114 UN trucks delivered life-saving food and medical supplies to 80,000 people in five besieged areas, Egeland said, heralding progress but calling for access to more than 4 million people in hard-to-reach areas of Syria.