8 July 2016 – The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has expressed serious concern for the estimated 300,000 people trapped in eastern Aleppo City, due to heavy clashes along the Castello road, the only road in and out of that part of the city.
“Heavy fighting over the past few days has continued to put civilians at risk of death and injury while effectively cutting off humanitarian’s access to people in need of assistance,” a UN spokesperson told reporters today in New York.
This follows intensified fighting by all parties to the conflict in Aleppo City and surrounding areas in recent weeks, including reports of airstrikes, shelling, and heavy clashes, causing many civilian deaths and injuries.
It has also caused damage to schools, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure, and hindered humanitarian aid operations.
The spokesperson reiterated the UN’s call on all parties to the conflict to take measures to protect civilians, as required under international humanitarian law, in order to safeguard the lives of all civilians living in Aleppo city and added:
“We also call on all parties to the conflict to take all measures to facilitate humanitarian access, particularly to eastern Aleppo city, as required under international humanitarian law.”
Two Syrian refugees, a brother and sister, in Jordan. Photo: UNICEF/Lucy Lyon
UN humanitarian coordinator alarmed at deteriorating conditions in besieged Syrian towns
On 5 July 2016, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Syria expressed alarm over reports of deteriorating humanitarian conditions and urgent medical evacuation needs in the towns of Madaya, Foah, Zabadani and Kefraya, where more than 62,000 people are besieged.
In a statement, Yacoub El Hillo, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, called for the parties to the “Four Towns Agreement” to allow for immediate and unconditional access for humanitarian actors.
“While parties to the agreement had committed to ensure humanitarian assistance to civilians trapped in the Four Towns, we have not been able to do so since April,” said Mr. El Hillo.
“We all remember too well the disturbing images of starving children in Madaya earlier this year, many of whom have died even after aid was finally allowed in. We are calling on all parties involved to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Immediate and unconditional humanitarian deliveries to the four towns must take place now,” he added.
Despite approval granted in May and June by the Syrian Government for the UN and humanitarian partners to provide assistance to besieged civilians in the four towns, access has not been possible because of tension among parties to the agreement, aerial bombardment in Idleb, and shelling on Foah and Kefraya, the Humanitarian Coordinator said.
Yesterday, the Government of Syria authorized “yet again” the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the four towns under the July plan, allowing the UN and partners a “unique opportunity” to reach besieged people with aid during the upcoming holy days of Eid al-Fitr, El Hillo said.
Scene from the Kara Tepe refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
The Humanitarian Coordinator emphasized that the UN is equally concerned over the delays in conducting urgent medical evacuations from the four towns.
“Our teams stand ready to proceed with the medical evacuation of the sick and wounded. We ask the parties to let us help the most vulnerable, and put an end to the tit-for-tat approach of the agreement that does not allow for emergency life-saving responses when urgently needed,” he said.
Across Syria, about 5.5 million people are in need in hard-to-reach and besieged areas with limited access to basic life-saving assistance and protection. Of that number, close to 600,000 are in 18 besieged areas including the four towns.
“The United Nations is once again calling for the immediate lifting of all sieges of civilians in Syria. Using besiegement that results in starvation as a method of warfare is a crime under International Humanitarian Law,” Mr. El Hillo emphasized.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, a follow-up convoy to besieged East Harasta went ahead with food, medicines and other essentials for 10,000 people. This area was last reached by a UN inter-agency convoy on 18 May, the office of the spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in a statement briefing. (Source: UN).
2016 Human Wrongs Watch