UN seeks humanitarian aid drop to Syrian civilians under bombardment

Strikes killed

Strikes killed

Regime air strikes killed dozens of civilians in and around the Syrian city of Aleppo Friday, as the UN Security Council prepared to discuss emergency aid drops to besieged areas in the war-torn country.

The raids were the most intense in more than a week, with dozens of barrel bombs — crude, unguided explosive devices — dropped on several rebel-held eastern districts of the city, an AFP correspondent said.

The civil defence reported that ten people were killed when a bus was hit on the Castello road, a key rebel supply route out of Aleppo. The civil defence, also known as the White Helmets, are a volunteer organisation that act as first-responders in the wake of attacks in opposition-controlled areas.

Twenty-eight civilians were also killed in regime strikes on several neighbourhoods in the rebel-held east of the city, said the civil defence.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Castello road was now “effectively cut”.

“All movement is targeted, be that buses or bystanders,” the group’s chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Nearly 600,000 people are estimated to live under siege in Syria, the majority of them encircled by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Permission from Syria required

The United Nations state that Assad’s approval is needed for any aid to be delivered by air. However, last month the UN said that if it did not see an improvement on aid access to besieged areas by June 1, it would task its food agency to carry out the drops.

The United Nations will ask the Syrian government on Sunday to approve airdrops and airlifts of humanitarian aid to besieged areas, UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council, according to diplomats in the closed door meeting on Friday.

O’Brien told the council the UN would ask permission from Syria to airdrop or airlift aid into besieged areas where only partial or no land access has been granted by President Bashar al-Assad’s government, said the diplomats.

There was no immediate response from Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari when asked to comment on the announcement.

In the wake of calls by the United States and Britain for airdrops, Syria gave the UN and the Red Cross approval on Thursday to send humanitarian aid convoys into at least 11 of the 19 besieged areas during the month of June, but several Western diplomats said the Syrian announcement may simply be a ploy to deflect from the now high-profile airdrop plan. The diplomats noted that Assad’s government has a track record of reneging on promises to permit full access to those in need. Syria’s opposition has warned the government may open the door just enough to defuse international pressure before restricting access again.

Risks of air drops

Officials have stressed the challenges and risks of aid operations in the skies above a country at war.

The World Food Programme said that high-altitude airdrops to urban or semi-urban areas such as hunger-stricken Madaya and Daraya “are not possible owing to the risk of harming people on the ground”.

If land access is not granted to besieged areas, “helicopter operations are the only viable option”, it added.

“In urban areas, airdrops are not feasible, so you are talking about the use of helicopters. Each helicopter with about three metric tons on board would actually have to land and off-load. One can imagine the security challenges for that—plus the security challenges of flying helicopters over the skies of Syria.” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric explained.

Aid is now critical

Allowing aid into areas under siege is key to the resumption of peace talks on ending the five-year war that has killed 280,000 Syrians and displaced millions.

A truce brokered by Russia and the United States between the government and non-jihadist rebels has been violated nearly continuously around Aleppo.

More than 260,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government demonstrations in March 2011.