Aleppo ceasefire could see aid reach besieged millions

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura says no convoys have reached certain cities for 110 days

Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh sits with his sister inside an ambulance after they were rescued following an airstrike in the  al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria. Photograph: Mahmoud Rslan/Reuters

Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh sits with his sister inside an ambulance after they were rescued following an airstrike in the al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria. Photograph: Mahmoud Rslan/Reuters

 

Next week could produce a humanitarian breakthrough for victims of the wars in Syria and Yemen.

If a 48-hour Aleppo ceasefire demanded by the UN goes into effect, it will enable aid agencies to deliver food and medical supplies to the city and evacuate wounded and ailing civilians.

Aleppo, Syria’s most populous pre-war city and its commercial hub, has become the focus of fighting in the five-year-old civil war.

Up to two million people on both sides lack clean water after infrastructure was damaged in bombing.

Escalating violence there, where Russia and Iran are supporting bombing campaigns against the rebels, some of whom are backed by Arab and Western powers, has caused the breakdown of Geneva peace talks, overseen by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Pictures of a dazed five-year-old boy, Omran Daqneesh, moments after he had been pulled from a building hit by an air strike by Syrian government or allied Russian forces, brought renewed public attention to the suffering of Aleppo’s residents this week.

Russia has agreed to the proposed ceasefire and is expected to “deliver concurrance of the [Syrian] government” De Mistura stated.

The US and European governments are, he added, expected to exert their influence with regional allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to ensure armed opposition factions they sponsor adhere to the ceasefire.

Aid is to be delivered to both the government-held west, with 1.3 million residents, and the insurgent-controlled eastern quarters where 250-300,000 are said to dwell.

Parachute supplies

In an attempt to put pressure on Russia and the US, De Mistura suspended weekly meetings of the UN humanitarian task force based in Geneva and announced no aid convoys had reached cities and towns besieged by government or insurgent forces for 110 days.

The World Food Programme alone has been able to parachute supplies to Islamic State-besieged Deir al-Zor, where an army garrison and 200,000 civilians have been blockaded for many months.

If the 48-hour Aleppo pause is successful, De Mistura will seek to impose ceasefires on a weekly basis around other besieged cities in the rest of the country.

This could lead to the resumption of peace talks between the government and the Saudi Arabia-supported opposition, suspended in April after two rounds.

US secretary of state John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov are due to meet on August 26th in Geneva to discuss the Syrian crisis and co-ordination in the battle against Islamic State and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly the al-Qaeda’s-linked Jabhat al-Nusra).

Airstrikes

The Saudi-led coalition has so far received 12 flight requests from the UN and other aid groups.

Saudi Arabia has also called for talks with the aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières in response to its decision to pull its staff out of six hospitals in north Yemen, the Houthi homeland, following air strikes on August 15th which killed 19 and wounded 24.

This attack was the fourth against one of the organisation’s hospitals since the Saudi war on Yemen began in March 2015.

The charity has met senior Saudi officials repeatedly to provide co-ordinates for medical facilities to try to prevent strikes and to secure the flow of aid to Yemen.

However, multiple strikes have undermined confidence in the Saudi “ability to avoid such fatal attacks” rendering the hospitals “unsafe for both patients and staff” the organisation stated.

The UN estimates that 21 million Yemenis out of a population of 24 million are in dire need due to the conflict.

While ships delivering aid are permitted, vessels carrying goods for the market are blockaded by the Saudis, making civilians all the more dependent on external aid and the uncertain largesse of donors.

Negotiations stalled when the Saudi-sponsored government demanded its return to power, Houthi rebels’ withdrawal from territory they hold, their disarming and demobilisation.

The Houthis, 30 per cent of the population, insist on power sharing. – (Additional reporting: Reuters)

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