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Situation in Syria's Aleppo 'catastrophic', aid lifeline in jeopardy - U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) - The situation in Aleppo is “catastrophic” after deadly overnight air strikes on a hospital in a rebel-held area of the Syrian city, and aid deliveries to millions of Syrians are in jeopardy, the United Nations said on Thursday.

An aid convoy was hit by a mortar round near Homs this week while another was forced to stop due to air raids, said Jan Egeland, chairman of the U.N. humanitarian task force for Syria.

A hospital in a rebel-controlled district of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub before the civil war broke out five years ago, killed at least 27 people including three children and the city’s last paediatrician, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

“The stakes are so incredibly high because so many civilian lives are at stake, so many humanitarian health workers and relief workers are being bombed, killed, maimed at the moment that the whole lifeline to millions of people is now also at stake,” Egeland told reporters in Geneva.

“Doctors have been killed, health workers have been killed and medical workers have been blocked from coming to their patients,” he said, speaking after a weekly meeting of major and regional powers in the International Syria Support Group (ISSG).

Egeland cited a “catastrophic deterioration in Aleppo over the last 24-48 hours, also in parts of the Homs area”.

Aleppo has been the epicentre of a military escalation that has helped to undermine U.N.-led peace talks in recent weeks. A cessation of hostilities agreement has unravelled and fighting has resumed on numerous fronts in western Syria.

U.N. relief operations are seeking access to 35 besieged and hard-to-reach areas during May, an “ambitious plan”, Egeland said. It has reached 778,175 Syrians this year in besieged or relatively inaccessible areas but is still unable to enter Douma, east Harasta and Daraya, he said, referring to three areas sealed off by government forces near the capital Damascus.

“So there has been progress. All of that may now be lost if the ... fighting and the violence and bombardment of civilians, health workers, hospitals, relief workers continue.”

A U.N. assessment mission to the government-besieged town of Daraya two weeks ago found 4,000 civilians, including at least 500 school-age children with many sick and wounded or hungry, Egeland said.

“We can now refute allegations we heard from some government people and others that there are only fighters and terrorists in Daraya. We have seen with own eyes very many children, very many other civilians so we need to be able to serve them.”

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich