UN backpedals on Syria air­drops

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

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

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