UN Syria envoy pauses humanitarian task force amid fighting

GENEVA: Frustrated and unhappy, the U.N. envoy for Syria abruptly cut short a Thursday meeting of its humanitarian task force because aid convoys to besieged cities and towns have been impeded this month amid a surge in fighting in the country’s 5-1/2-year civil war.

Staffan de Mistura hoped to ratchet up pressure on world powers — notably the United States and Russia — to help produce a long-sought 48-hour pause in fighting in the northern city of Aleppo, in the face of a recent government offensive. He said he suspended the weekly meeting of the task force after only eight minutes because dozens of U.N. priority areas for aid shipments haven’t received any for weeks.

“Not one single convoy in one month has reached any of the humanitarian besieged areas — not one single convoy,” de Mistura, who chairs the task force, told reporters. “And why? Because of one thing: Fighting.”
His office later clarified that some U.N. convoys had been able to reach besieged, “hard-to-reach” or other priority areas in the past month, but none so far during the month of August.

“I decided to use my privilege as chair to declare that there was no sense to have a humanitarian meeting today unless we got some action on the humanitarian side in Syria,” de Mistura said. “What we are hearing and seeing is only fighting, offensives, counteroffensives, rockets, barrel bombs, mortars, hellfire cannons, napalm, chlorine, snipers, airstrikes, suicide bombers…”

The only “exception” to the halt in aid deliveries over the last month has been in the eastern city of Deir El-Zour, which has received a total of 100 airdrops from the U.N.’s World Food Program, he said. Those airdrops have been aimed to help 100,000 people holed up in areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, amid a siege on the city by the radical Islamic State group.

De Mistura said he nevertheless plans to reconvene the humanitarian task force next week and believes the task force’s co-chairs — Russia and the United States — still want a nonmilitary solution to Syria’s conflict that has left at least 250,000 people dead.