‘Access to besieged Syrian areas even worse this year’



Aid agencies have not been able to reach as many besieged Syrians this year as they did over the same period last year, the UN’s chief humanitarian adviser for Syria said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Jan Egeland said the front lines have shifted but civilian suffering has “remained the same” in 2017. Of nearly 5 million Syrians living in besieged or hard-to-reach areas, agencies have only been able to reach 564,000 this year to date, he said.He drew particular attention to the dire humanitarian situation in the opposition-held Eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital, Damascus. About 400,000 Syrians are trapped inside the area, which is besieged by government forces. Aid agencies have been unable to reach Douma, the largest town inside the besieged area, in half a year. Shortages of food and other basic goods have pushed prices “through the roof,” said Egeland. “We get reports that there is no bread or wheat on the market at all.”
Siege has been a pillar of the government’s military strategy against its domestic opponents throughout the six-year-old civil war. By tightly restricting the delivery of food and medical relief, the government has secured the surrender of broad swathes of the opposition-held countryside around Damascus, as well as the former opposition enclaves in Aleppo and Homs, Syria’s first and third largest cities, respectively. The Syrian government and rebels are allowing up to 30,000 people to leave besieged areas over the coming two months in a mutually agreed population transfer that critics say is redrawing the country’s map along sectarian and political lines.
The last residents of the formerly rebel-held town of Zabadani, outside Damascus, were evacuated on Wednesday.
Egeland said the sieges should be lifted, and that no Syrians should be forced from their homes through starvation. The UN is not taking part in the transfer. The UN’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said at the same press conference that it was his aim to resume Geneva talks between the government and the opposition in May, but “we are watching very carefully the developments on the ground.”

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