World Powers to Push for End of Sieges, Says De Mistura
The United Nations special envoy to Syria said on Wednesday that world powers will push for “immediate action” to deliver much needed food and medical aid to besieged areas throughout the country ahead of peace talks set for later this month, AFP reports.
The new diplomatic push was announced by Staffan de Mistura after a meeting in Geneva with representatives from the Security Council’s permanent members: France, Britain, China, Russia and the U.S.
He said the meeting focused on “the crucial importance for the people of Syria to see sustained and unimpeded access to a number of besieged areas in the lead-up to the talks”, which are on January 25 in Geneva.
Aid reached three besieged communities in Syria for the first time in months on Monday, including the town of Madaya that is blockaded by government forces, after months of negotiations between the Syrian government, the U.N. and its relief partners.
U.N. officials who entered the besieged town on Monday described seeing emaciated children and severely malnourished residents. According to global charity Doctors Without Borders, 28 people have died of starvation in Madaya since December.
While de Mistura did not say the lifting of the sieges was a prerequisite for peace talks, he did specify that allowing access to aid was an important step in the peace process.
According to U.N. figures, some 400,000 people are under siege in Syria. Other organizations, like Siege Watch, estimate the figure to be closer to 1 million.
More Aid Set Arrive to Besieged Communities Says U.N.
Aid convoys hope to deliver another round of much-needed food and medicine on Thursday to three besieged communities, AFP reports.
Aid groups will make their second trip in less than a week to the towns of Fou’a and Kafraya in Idlib, as well as Madaya near Damascus, where more than two dozen have died of starvation since December.
“We are planning operations to Madaya, Fou’a and Kafraya on Thursday, which will be followed by a third delivery in the following days,” said Linda Tom, a spokesperson for the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The U.N. is also planning to send aid to the town of Zabadani, located next to Madaya and also under government-imposed siege. Residents in Zabadani have reportedly been killed by stepping on landmines or being shot by snipers while trying to leave the area in search of food.
The Shiite towns of Fou’a and Kafraya are surrounded by rebel forces and are reportedly suffering acute shortages in food and medicine, although the regime has been able to airdrop in supplies.
Rebels in Homs to Hand Over Heavy Weapons in Deal
Rebel groups in the former opposition stronghold of Homs will surrender almost half of their heavy weapons as part of a landmark truce deal with the Syrian government, AFP reports.
Provincial governor Talal Barazi said on Wednesday the deal over Waer, the last rebel-held area of the city, had already begun.
Rebel fighters are to hand over “nearly 50 percent of all medium and heavy-weaponry, like machine guns and mortars,” said Barazi.
The truce reached in December will place Syria’s third largest city under full government control in exchange for a lifting of a three-year siege.
The first step of the deal, which took place last month, saw the transfer of some 700 people – 300 rebel fighters and 400 women and children – from the area to other opposition areas.
“The second phase of the Waer agreement began four days ago and will continue until the beginning of February,” Barazi said, calling the implementation of a deal part of a “trust-building process.”
- PRI: These Men Say They’re Leaving Syria Because They Don’t Want to Fight Anyone
- BBC: The Death of Naji Jerf and the Battle Facing Syria’s Citizen Journalists
- The New York Times: How to Help the Syrians Who Want to Return Home
- Al-Monitor: What Are the Real Goals Behind Local Truces in Syria?
- Associated Press; Once Accommodating Neighbors Now Turn Back Syrian Refugees
Top image: School students walk past a big poster of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the old city of Homs on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Upon completion of the landmark truce deal, the city once known as the “capital of the revolution” will return fully to government control. But its inhabitants have only been trickling back and many neighborhoods are still ravaged and deserted – a sign of the enormous challenges the government faces in reasserting its authority over areas once held by the opposition. (AP Photo)