Syrian access to aid at all-time low, says UN

Call for Russia, Turkey and Iran to achieve “de-escalation” of the fighting in Idlib governorate

United Nations Syria envoy’s Special Adviser Jan Egeland attends a briefing after the meeting of the humanitarian task force on Syria in Geneva, Switzerland.

Geneva: The Syrian government’s approval of aid convoys is at “an all-time low” since the UN launched a humanitarian taskforce in 2015, with no deliveries in the past two months, United Nations humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said on Thursday.

He called on Russia, Turkey and Iran to achieve “de-escalation” of the fighting in Idlib governorate, and called for a humanitarian pause in the the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta where hundreds await medical evacuation.

“Humanitarian diplomacy seems to be totally impotent, we’re getting nowhere,” Egeland told reporters in Geneva.

Two weeks ago, the UN expressed alarm about a surge of fighting and destruction in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province, the last major area of the country held by rebels, where assaults by Russian-backed Syrian forces have put tens of thousands of civilians at risk.

The assault on Idlib, including areas near the Turkish border, has forced more than 100,000 people to flee for safety since the start of December.

The United Nations estimates Idlib’s population at 2.5 million, including more than a million who fled or were evacuated to the province to escape offensives elsewhere in the country, and who are packed into camps scattered across the province.

Some reports say that government forces and their allies had deliberately targeted civilians and hospitals in Idlib.

Bombing and shelling of Eastern Ghouta have killed at least 85 civilians and wounded 183 since the start of the year, the top UN human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain, said Wednesday. Aircraft bombed two medical facilities, killing a medical worker in that period, he said.

Opposition forces in Eastern Ghouta have fired on residential areas of Damascus since Jan. 1, inflicting civilian casualties, Al Hussein added, citing a rocket attack last week.

“The situation is screaming for a humanitarian pause in the extremely intense fighting so that humanitarian agencies can do their work and civilians can get relief,” Egeland said.

The Syrian government has not responded to repeated appeals by the United Nations since September for evacuation of other Eastern Ghouta civilians in need of medical attention.

Russia, the main ally of President Bashar Al Assad of Syria, has repeatedly said in recent months that it is winding down military activities in the country’s nearly 7-year-old war.

But the offensive aimed at insurgents in Idlib appeared to suggest otherwise.

Syria, along with Yemen and Iraq were declared by the UN at the top level of emergency.

The Middle Eastern countries were ranked at level 3, the highest-level humanitarian emergency.

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