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Starving Syria: humanitarian groups urge an end to sieges

This month proved more difficult than expected for aid to reach besieged towns [AFP]

Date of publication: 27 May, 2016

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Fifty seven human rights groups have called for an to sieges as war weapon in Syria, as the UN announced that half a million Syrians live in besieged towns.
Humanitarian and human rights organisations echoed calls by leading world powers, and urged the Syrian regime to lift sieges across the war-torn country and ensure aid reaches starving civilians.

The International Syria Support Group - including the US, Russia, the EU and China - called on the UN to drop aid on all of Syria's besieged territories if humanitarian access continues to be suspended by next week.

But aid groups and NGOs said airdrops are not enough and there must be a complete end to sieges to ensure civilians receive the necessary basic supplies they need to survive.

"Airdrops are complicated, inefficient, limited in their scope and risk the diversion of aid," a coalition of 57 NGOs said in a statement on Friday.

"More than one million Syrians are affected by sieges across Syria," the statement said.

The group blamed warring parties on the sieges and described the use of airdrops as "a last resort".

"Priority should be to end all sieges and ensure full, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access across all [...] the country, while ensuring that aid is not used as a bargaining chip for political negotiations," it added.

The UN envoy to Syria warned on Thursday that many Syrians will face starvation if the Syrian regime and some armed rebel groups do not allow greater access to humanitarian convoys carrying life-saving supplied.

"There are plenty of civilians at the moment in danger of starvation," Staffan de Mistura said following the weekly meeting of the UN-backed humanitarian taskforce. They have been struggling to coordinate aid deliveries across Syria, as the regime and some opposition groups do not allow aid to enter beseiged enemy areas.

De Mistura's second-in-command and head of the taskforce Jan Egeland said that this month proved to be more difficult than expected in getting aid to besieged Syrian towns.

"Of the one million people that we have planned and have tried to reach by land in May, we've only so far reached 160,000," he added.

Dramatic efforts needed

In January, the UN said 400,000 people were living under siege in Syria, most of them in areas besieged by the regime, although others have put the figure at a million.

There are also 4 million Syrians in "hard-to-reach areas" that are generally near fighting and checkpoints, according to UN figures.

The UN says aid has failed to reach many Syrian towns leaving children in a critical situation [AFP]

Since February, there have been efforts to dramatically scale up humanitarian aid to these areas. But delivering supplies has become increasingly difficult due to a surge in fighting, which has left February's truce hanging by a thread.

In the besieged rebel-held towns of Daraya and Douma in Damascus suburbs there have been no aid deliveries at all.

Aid was also failing to reach the besieged towns of Moadamiya in rural Damascus and the rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Waer in Homs city.

"I would say the situation is horrendously critical," he added.

"Children are so malnourished in these places that they will be dying if we are not able to reach them," he warned.

Escalating violence

Sieges are not the only worry for civilians in rebelk areas.

At least two people were killed in barrel bomb attacks on an opposition-held eastern district of Aleppo city, the civil defence - known as the White Helmets - said.

Air raids killed nine people in the town of Hreitan and four in Kfar Hamra also in Aleppo .

Meanwhile, regime forces and armed opposition groups are fighting for control of al- Dirkhabiyah, in the Damascus suburbs.

Regime air forces struck the western Ghouta town with over 25 airstrikes on Friday morning as residential neighbourhoods were shelled.

Syrian regime forces were described as being in "hysterical confusion" to recapture the town, which fell to the rebels on Thursday, the media office in western Ghouta said.

Meanwhile, others go mad with hunger.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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