Food distribution under way for 60,000 in Aleppo: Red Cross

GENEVA Wed May 21, 2014 11:27am EDT

A man walks near damaged buildings caused by what activists say was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo's countryside May 21, 2014. REUTERS/Jalal Al-Mamo

A man walks near damaged buildings caused by what activists say was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo's countryside May 21, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Jalal Al-Mamo

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GENEVA (Reuters) - The Red Cross has begun a "major distribution" of emergency food rations on both sides of the front lines in the Syrian city of Aleppo, its first since October, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told Reuters on Wednesday.

The Syrian government finally gave approval this week for the plan, submitted in January, and the operation to feed 60,000 people in the divided northern city is being carried out with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, ICRC President Peter Maurer said.

"We have a major food distribution ongoing in Aleppo. It is the first time in months on that scale," Maurer told Reuters in Geneva. "It is on both sides of the front line."

In rebel-held eastern Aleppo, 6,000 family food parcels are being distributed, with nearly the same being handed out in government-held areas, he said. In all, 60,000 people will benefit, an ICRC spokesman said in response to a query.

"Distribution started on both sides, targeting IDPs (internally displaced people) from the barrel bombing campaign," Maurer said, referring to civilians who have fled bombs dropped by government planes on Syria's former commercial hub.

The ICRC delivery in Aleppo, which follows one in the besieged town of Barzeh near Damascus in February, should help to build confidence among the warring parties that its operation is "humanitarian and not politically tainted", Maurer said.

The Syrian relief operation is the ICRC's largest anywhere in the world. The agency appealed this month for greater access to civilians in rebel-held and besieged areas where the humanitarian situation is "catastrophic", especially in Aleppo and in suburbs of Damascus.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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