UN: Cross-border aid to Syria faces big challenges

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. humanitarian chief said Wednesday there are "significant challenges" in delivering humanitarian aid into Syria from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, including a multitude of opposition and terrorist groups.

The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on July 14 authorizing cross-border delivery of aid to Syrians in rebel-held areas without government approval through four crossings in the three countries.

Valerie Amos said in a statement to the press after briefing a closed council meeting by videoconference that the first aid convoy crossed into Syria from Turkey through the Bab al-Salam crossing on July 24 carrying food, shelter materials, household items and water and sanitation supplies for approximately 26,000 people in Aleppo and Idlib governorates.

"There are significant challenges to operating across these four border points, including ongoing fighting, existence of a multitude of armed groups, and terrorist groups, which have stated their objections to international aid and aid workers," she said.

Amos said U.N. monitors are in place and she hopes to confirm the crossing of other convoys in the coming days.

But given the volatile situation near the Iraqi border, she said, "we will review when we can start using the Al Yarubiyah crossing point."

The Iraqi-Syrian border area is controlled by the extremist Islamic State group which went on a lightning offensive last month, crossing from territory it holds in Syria and capturing a large swath of western Iraq.

In his monthly report to the council last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused opposition groups of "severely constraining access" to eastern Syria and singled out the Islamic State "terrorist group" for blocking all humanitarian and commercial access into areas it controls, affecting 711,000 people.

Amos said attacks on civilians and human rights abuses by all parties to the Syrian conflict continue "in flagrant violation" of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Attacks on medical facilities are at their highest levels since December 2012, and the targeting of vital services including the main water pumping station in Aleppo, Syria's second largest city, has interrupted the supply of clean drinking water and electricity, she said.

"Almost one million people remain without safe drinking water, in temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius," Amos said.

She said aid deliveries to people in hard-to-reach areas dropped in July largely because the government has centralized approval of deliveries to those areas, "while arbitrary restrictions by some opposition groups are also obstructing humanitarian access, especially in the eastern governorates of Syria."

On a positive note, Amos said that after more than 20 requests, the U.N. reached the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh earlier this month for the first time since the end of 2012 and delivered food and medical care to the 24,000 people living there. Moadamiyeh has been under a government siege, and activists said a number of people died because of lack of food and medicine.

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