UN convoys off to Syrian besieged zones

  • 17/02/2016
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (centre R) talks with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (centre,L)in Damascus (Reuters)
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (centre R) talks with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (centre,L)in Damascus (Reuters)

The Syrian government has approved access to seven besieged areas and UN convoys are expected to set off in days, the United Nations says after crisis talks in Damascus.

UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, who won the green light at talks with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, said on Tuesday (local time) that the world body would test the government commitment to allow access on Wednesday but gave no details.

Their meeting in Damascus came at a time when government forces have been advancing rapidly with the aid of Russian air strikes, and just days before an internationally agreed pause in fighting is due to take effect.

De Mistura said they had discussed the issue of humanitarian access to areas besieged by all sides in the five-year war.

"It is clear 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 in a statement. "Tomorrow we test this."

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that Syria had approved access to Deir al-Zor; Foua and Kafraya in Idlib; and Madaya, Zabadani, Kafr Batna and Mouadamiya al-Sham in rural Damascus.

"Humanitarian agencies and partners are preparing convoys for these areas, to depart as soon as possible in the coming days," the OCHA said.

It was not immediately clear whether the convoys would begin on Wednesday, as de Mistura had indicated.

Nor was there any indication of a breakthrough on access to areas besieged by armed opposition groups.

UN-backed peace talks are scheduled to resume in Geneva on February 25, after de Mistura suspended a first round earlier this month.

Last Friday global powers meeting in Munich agreed to the pause in fighting in the hope that this could allow the talks to resume, but the deal does not take effect until the end of this week and was not signed by the Syrian warring parties.

Syria's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Hussam Aala, said in an interview in the daily Tribune de Geneve: "We have done all we could to facilitate the passage of aid convoys in January and February."

"The advance of the Syrian army in this region has allowed us to break the siege imposed against two towns, Nubul and al-Zahra. It opened the way for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to deliver aid to 70,000 residents. Our objective was to cut all the supply routes for arms and for men to the terrorist groups armed by Turkey."