Syria drama "is not over" as UN is denied aid access

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A humanitarian convoy on its way to the besieged Syrian town of Madaya. Photo: OCHA Syria

A fragile ceasefire is largely holding in Syria but "tremendous dramas" are still being played out by the people of the war-torn country, the UN warned on Thursday.

The war in Syria has lasted almost six years.

United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura expressed the hope that proposed talks between the warring parties in Kazakhstan might bring an end to the fighting.

Here's Daniel Johnson's report from Geneva:

In his first briefing of the New Year, UN negotiator Staffan de Mistura expressed hope that conditions might just be coming together for an end to conflict in Syria.

Reasons for this cautious optimism are two recent UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, and in particular the adoption of resolution 2236, in support of efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the near-six year war.

"Our stand is that any initiative such as this one needs to be supported, and we hope it will succeed and it is definitely welcome."

Talks have been proposed later this month between the warring parties in Astana, Kazakhstan, guaranteed by Russia and Turkey.

The UN is expected to attend.

Their success depends to a large extent on a fragile cessation of hostilities agreement holding in Syria.

And although Staffan de Mistura said that ceasefire violations are still happening in Syria, after two failed attempts to implement a truce there in the past, he said he hoped that Russia and Turkey would succeed this time.

Further UN-led intra-Syrian talks are planned in February in Geneva, Mr de Mistura said, before adding that the new Secretary-General, António Guterres had taken a personal interest in "brainstorming" sessions to resolve the conflict.

Meanwhile, UN Special Adviser Jan Egeland stressed his disappointment that the ceasefire had not improved humanitarian aid access.

For the month of January, he explained, the UN did not have permission to access five out of 21 locations – mostly in rural Damascus, Homs and Hama.

"It's not over, even though the cessation of hostilities is largely holding in large parts of the country. There are tremendous dramas for the civilian population still, and we are denied access still to too many places."

One of the most worrying places is Damascus, where fighting has left an estimated 5.5 million people without water for the last two weeks.

Supplies have been restored to schools, hospitals and bakeries but the situation cannot go like this, Jan Egeland said, before adding that the UN and its partners have struggled to reach even a small number of those who remain besieged inside Syria.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva


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