GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations voiced concern on Thursday over stalled aid deliveries to besieged areas in Syria, with convoys delayed or surgical equipment being removed, mainly by government forces.
Jan Egeland, chairman of a task force on humanitarian aid, urged countries such as Russia, Iran, China and Iraq to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to enable more deliveries of food and medicines.
“We still have not gotten access, a green light to go at all to Douma, Daraya, east Harasta,” he told reporters after major and regional powers in the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) met to review progress during the month-long ceasefire.
More than 90,000 people in need are trapped in government-besieged Douma, while conditions are “horrendous” in Daraya, where the World Food Programme (WFP) has said some hungry people have been reduced to eating grass.
The United Nations has reached 150,000 people living in 11 of 18 besieged areas in Syria, out of a total of nearly 500,000 trapped in such locations.
Rebel forces are besieging Foua and Kefraya, two Shi’ite villages in Idlib that have received multiple convoys. The rest are besieged by the government or allied Hezbollah forces, except for Deir al-Zor, encircled by Islamic State militants.
The government last week granted permission for three more besieged areas - Irbin, Zamalka and Zabadani - but the deliveries have yet to happen amid wrangling over the number of beneficiaries, Egeland said.
He said Damascus has been less responsive to requests for aid convoys than it was after world powers agreed in Munich in early February to a cessation of hostilities to allow aid to be delivered.
“It’s like there are less answers, less quick answers, less momentum, less dynamics in the situation than we had immediately after the ministerial meeting in Munich,” he said. “We must be able to get to the remaining besieged areas.”
Medical supplies and health services are being denied, in violation of international law, Egeland said.
“Surgical equipment is still taken off convoys, medical personnel is still not allowed into the besieged areas and medical evacuations are still not allowed.”
Egeland said three children in government-besieged Madaya bled to death earlier this week because they could not be evacuated for medical treatment after an unexploded bomb they were playing with exploded.
“Those children should have been alive today,” he said.
But the U.N. now had clearance to start air drops of vital supplies to Deir al-Zor, a town of 200,000 people, within two weeks, after a failed attempt last month, he added.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Tom Heneghan