UN warns: Credibility of Syria peace talks at risk without renewed truce, aid access

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Children in Syria's war-torn city of Homs. File photo

GENEVA (UN) – Without improved humanitarian access and a restoration of Syria’s cessation of hostilities, the credibility of the next round of peace talks would be in question, the United Nations envoy mediating the talks said Thursday, vowing to take the “last resort” option of air drops if there is no improvement in access to besieged areas by the first of June.

“Obviously we are in clear hurry to start re-introducing the next round of the intra-Syrian talks but the message was clear: if we don’t have the atmosphere conducive for increasing the cessation of hostilities tenure […] and a substantial improvement on the humanitarian access, then the credibility of the next round of talks will be in question,” Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said.

The envoy was briefing reporters in Geneva on a meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) that took place in Vienna earlier this week. The ISSG comprises the United States, the Russian Federation, the UN, the Arab League, the European Union, and 16 other countries and has been working since late last year to resolve the Syrian crisis.

In the ISSG meeting, “a profound unhappiness” or “impatience” was aired regarding the failure of humanitarian aid to reach many of the besieged areas, he said. In Darayya, delivery of baby food had been blocked by “well-fed, grown-up” soldiers, he added.

He said that if there is no substantial progress in humanitarian access to these areas by 1 June, air drops will start. He, however, stressed that given the heavy cost of airlifting aid, it is the last resort.

Mr. de Mistura also said that Eva Svoboda, a new senior staff member assigned to handle the issue of detainee and abductees, was introduced to the ISSG’s Humanitarian Taskforce.

There is no ‘Plan B,’ he said, stressing that the only way to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis is through the intra-Syrian talks.

Jan Egeland, Mr. de Mistura’s Senior Advisor, said that food and other humanitarian supplies for 10,000 people reached the besieged area of East-Harasta Wednesday for the first time since March 2013.

“We have now reached 13 out of the 18 besieged areas as compared to reaching two of the besieged areas of last year,” he said. “But that is the end of the good news really, because May was, and is, one of the most difficult months we’ve had this year.”

He said that in April, more than 40 percent of the people besieged received humanitarian supplies. But this month so far, the ratio is less than five per cent.

The plan is to meet the needs of more than 900,000 people in May, and it is even more ambitious for June as it aims to reach more than 1.1 million people. He said that 14 out of the 18 besieged areas are within an hour of drive from Damascus, expressing hope that the Russians and the Iranians, and the Americans and the Saudis, and others, who have influence on the ground in Syria, will enable access.

“Nowhere was the disappointment as big as it was in Darayya,” he said, noting that baby foods were stopped by the soldiers. “I can only imagine the disappointment of the mothers,” he said.

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