UN to ex­pand aid de­liv­ery in Syria as peace holds

The Pak Banker - - BUSINESS -

The United Na­tions plans to step up de­liv­ery of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid in Syria, tak­ing ad­van­tage of a frag­ile cease-fire that has largely held for a third day.

The UN plans to dis­trib­ute aid to 154,000 peo­ple in ar­eas be­sieged by govern­ment troops and rebels in the next five days, ac­cord­ing to the of­fice of the UN hu­man­i­tar­ian affairs co­or­di­na­tor in Da­m­as­cus. The agency is ready to help about 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple in dif­fi­cult-to-reach ar­eas in the first quar­ter.

The de­ci­sion fol­lows a

par­tial truce in Syria that was an­nounced by the U.S. and Rus­sia on Feb. 22 and be­gan Satur­day. Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad's govern­ment, which has gained the up­per hand in the con­flict backed by Rus­sian air power, agreed to the pro­posal, and 97 armed op­po­si­tion groups on Fri­day con­firmed their par­tic­i­pa­tion.

So far, there have been lim­ited vi­o­la­tions to the cease-fire, while airstrikes have con­tin­ued against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants and other mil­i­tants not cov­ered by the par­tial truce, in­clud­ing the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

It was never likely that all fight- ing would stop af­ter five years of war that has killed more than 270,000 peo­ple and cre­ated a refugee cri­sis strain­ing Europe's bor­ders. The United Na­tions has said it plans to re­sume stalled peace talks on March 7 if the cease-fire "largely holds."

En­forc­ing the ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties has be­come even more ur­gent given con­cerns that Turkey and Saudi Ara­bia will be­come more heav­ily en­gaged in the war. While Rus­sia and Iran are back­ing As­sad, Turkey and Saudi Ara­bia are part of a U.S.-led coali­tion sup­port­ing var­i­ous rebel groups, in­clud­ing some that the Syr­i­ans and their al­lies con­sider radi- cal Is­lamists.

Un­der­lin­ing the fragility of peace ef­forts, Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Adel al-Jubeir warned of a re­turn to con­flict if As­sad's govern­ment failed to abide by the truce.

If As­sad and his al­lies aren't se­ri­ous, "the so­lu­tion is clear," he said dur­ing a tele­vised press con­fer­ence. "The so­lu­tion in­cludes Syria with­out Bashar al-As­sad. There is no con­tro­versy on this or ne­go­ti­a­tion about it."

Kur­dish YPG fight­ers backed by U.S.-led coali­tion airstrikes re­cap­tured the town of Tal Abyad, sited along Syria's bor­der with Turkey, from Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, the U.K.- based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, which mon­i­tors the Syr­ian con­flict through ac­tivists on the ground, said Sun­day. The town was a cru­cial tran­sit point for for­eign fight­ers and lo­gis­tics head­ing for Is­lamic State's self-de­clared cap­i­tal of Raqqa.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has said he hopes the par­tial cease­fire will free com­bat­ants in the re­gion to fo­cus on de­feat­ing Is­lamic State. Obama said last week he had di­rected his team to "con­tinue in­ten­si­fy­ing ef­forts" against the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, and that he sees re­tak­ing An­bar prov­ince and Mo­sul in Iraq as the next steps in the fight.

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