U.N. aid chief heads to Syria to try to boost deliveries

  • World
  • Friday, 11 Dec 2015

Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim gestures during a Reuters interview in Vienna, Austria, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien will travel to Syria on Saturday to discuss with senior government officials how to boost aid to 13.5 million people left in need of help by the civil war.

O'Brien will visit Damascus and may also make field visits, depending on the security situation, before leaving on Monday, his spokesman Jens Laerke said on Friday. He last went to Syria in August, shortly after taking up his post.

"He is going there of course to see for himself the situation on the ground, what aid agencies are doing and particularly to try to refocus the world's attention on the plight of some 13.5 million people inside Syria who are in desperate need of aid and protection," Laerke told reporters in Geneva.

O'Brien told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that he hoped to see more local ceasefires similar to a deal agreed this week to end fighting in the Waer district of the city of Homs.

"There are a number of dynamics at play all the time, trying to secure the sort of context of a ceasefire that you've just seen in Homs," he said.

The Homs deal involved the evacuation of 700 people, including 300 combatants, and allowed humanitarian aid to flow into the city, making a significant change in the lives of more than 60,000 people, the U.N. said in a statement.

Such ceasefires might help to get aid to almost 400,000 people under siege and 4.5 million living in areas that are hard to reach.

Some diplomats say local ceasefires may be the most effective way of gradually bringing peace to Syria, where more than 250,000 people have been killed during nearly five years of conflict.

The United Nations is also hoping that peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition next month will be accompanied by a national ceasefire.

"What has been asked of us, and I'm glad to say we're ready, is that the humanitarians have these convoys ready to roll as soon as these peace areas or the broader peace context is delivered," O'Brien said.

"The truck drivers need to have the confidence that, if they get into their cabs and start driving, they are going to be able to reach their destination without there being any interruption from bombing, shelling or unnecessary checkpoints."

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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