UN backpedals on Syria airdrops
UNITED NATIONS—The United Nations on Monday backtracked on its plan to move ahead with airdrops of humanitarian aid to Syria, saying it was focusing for now on securing access for land convoys.
UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council last week that a formal request for Syrian permission to begin airdrops and air bridges would be delivered to Damascus on Sunday.
But no such request was made, with UN officials instead presenting a letter seeking Syrian approval for ground convoys to deliver food and medicine to 34 areas including 17 besieged towns.
“Our main focus is on land delivery, given the challenges in terms of safety and logistics of air deliveries,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
“If at some point, we decide that the land access will not be granted, we will look more at the airdrop option.”
Syria last week agreed to grant access for the month of June to 23 of the 34 areas on the UN list for delivery, including 12 besieged towns, but the United Nations said this was insufficient.
It gave Syria until June 10 to respond to the request for land access, said Linda Tom, a spokeswoman for the UN office of humanitarian affairs in Damascus.
If no overland approvals are granted by then, “the UN will request approval for access by air wherever this is feasible to reach people in need, as a measure of last resort,” she added.
At least 592,000 people live under siege in Syria — the majority surrounded by regime forces — and another four million live in hardto-reach areas, according to the United Nations.
World powers decided last month that if aid continued to be blocked, the United Nations would begin airdrops on June 1, although such an operation would have required Syrian approval and presented high risks.
Russia, Syria’s ally, said it was prepared to support the request, but stressed that delivery by land was the most effective and safest way to reach those in need.
The United Nations has said that helicopters would have to be used for air bridges to 15 besieged areas because they are densely populated.
“The amount of supplies you can do in one cargo plane is the equivalent of one truck, so obviously we would rather, even if we have to wait a few days, go through the land routes than take the risks of the airdrops,” said Dujarric.—AFP