Hundreds evacuated from four besieged areas in Syria – UN mediator
21 April 2016 – In what he called “modest but very real” progress on the humanitarian track of the crisis in Syria, the United Nations envoy for the country today reported that, among other steps, more than 500,000 civilians have been reached during the cessation of hostilities, and yesterday, some 500 people were medically evacuated from several besieged areas.
“So far, 560,000 people have been reached, between hard-to-reach areas and besieged areas. This means that about 220,000 people in the besieged areas have been so far reached, which is more or less half the people [in those areas],” UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura told reporters in Geneva, where he has been mediating intra-Syrian talks towards a resolution to the five-year conflict.
He went on to say that 515 people were medically evacuated yesterday, simultaneously from Zabadani, Madaya, Kefraya and Foah, with the very active participation of the Syrian Arab Red Cross (SARC) and “with a lot of homework done by the UN.”
“Another [example] of modest but real progress is the fact that Khawla Mattar – a woman, I want to underline, because we should remember that when we have the privilege of having courageous colleagues like her – led a convoy for the first time since 2012 to Darayya,” Mr. de Mistura said, underscoring that Darayya, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, “has become a symbol of inaccessibility.”
“Her report is certainly a wake-up call,” he continued, noting that there are children there and other civilians in need of food and medicine. “And we will, together with, hopefully everyone who has been helping us, in particular I must give credit to the Russian Federation, who had been certainly arguing very much in favour of this UN convoy to Darayya […] we will follow-up on this. It is clear we cannot stop at simply a fact finding, there is a need to follow-up,” he said.
Turning to Deir ez-Zor he spotlighted eight “successful and unprecedented, from that altitude – about 5,000 to 6000 meters – [air drops],” which have reached an estimated 65,000 people, according to World Food Programme (WFP). He said WFP has reported that it plans to double the number of the agency’s air drops, and that he hoped the required funding would be made available.
As for issues of concern he said “we are not yet there” on the parties allowing in medical supplies. Items like dialysis equipment have still not been allowed through. In addition, vitamins, antibiotics, pain killers, surgical items, and basic medical kits were not allowed by the Ministry of Health in Syria the other day when they were supposed to go by convoy.
“And this is not only worrisome but unacceptable according to international law. Even the worst enemies should allow this,” said Mr. de Mistura, reiterating that medical items have become an urgent priority request from the humanitarian taskforce, in particular to the Government of Syria.
“That of course applies to all besieged areas including Kefraya and Foah, not only those besieged by the Government,” he added.
He went on to note that the Humanitarian Taskforce also addressed problems caused by the armed opposition, in particular the access by SARC, to reach and start working again in Azaz and eastern Aleppo. On detainees he announced that he would nominate senior person working with his team to address the issue of detainees and abducted people.
“[The] bottom line is there has been modest but real progress, not enough to make us comfortable at all […] the Humanitarian Taskforce is very much involved in pushing this to become more solid. If humanitarian aid increases, as should be, and the cessation of hostilities goes back into what we consider a ‘hopeful mood,’ that will certainly help the political discussions,” Mr. de Mistura explained, adding that he plans to brief the press again tomorrow on the state of the political track.