U.N. says Syria blocking aid promised under U.S.-Russia peace deal

GENEVA (Reuters) - Syria’s government is holding up delivery of U.N. aid that was supposed to move unhindered under a U.S.-Russian peace deal, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said on Thursday.

“The government, I repeat the government, was expected to provide ... permits, authorizations,” de Mistura told reporters in Geneva. They “have not been received”, he added.The lack of permission was “a very major disappointment” even for Syria’s ally Russia, de Mistura said.

The reduction in violence since the U.S.-Russia agreement came into force at sunset on Monday had been substantial, but expecting a “cessation of hostilities” was perhaps ambitious after a war of five years, he said.

His humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said there had been no reports of civilian killings in the past 24 hours and attacks on schools and hospitals had stopped.

Egeland said aid convoys could reach besieged zones such as Moadamiyah, al Waer and Douma by the end of the week if the permits were issued, which would be simple to do.

“Can well-fed grown men please stop putting political, bureaucratic and procedural road blocks for brave humanitarian workers that are willing to go to serve women, children, wounded civilians in besieged and crossfire areas?” Egeland said.

De Mistura said some people had used the argument that offices were closed during this week’s Muslim Eid holiday, and the Syrian government had been “a little bit slow” during Eid, but he would not accept that as a valid reason.

The permits are needed for aid to reach most besieged areas in Syria, but not for the trucks waiting to cross the Turkish border and head to eastern Aleppo, the biggest flashpoint of recent fighting.

De Mistura and Egeland said that delay was caused by lack of guarantees from all sides of safe and secure access for the convoy.

“The reason we’re not in eastern Aleppo has again been a combination of very difficult and detailed discussions around security monitoring and passage of roadblocks - which is both opposition and government,” Egeland told Reuters.

He said he hoped aid could go to Aleppo on Friday, but first all fighting forces had to disengage from the Castello Road supply route.

Castello Road has special status under the U.S.-Russia agreement and the United States and Russia are expected to manage a demilitarization of the route, allowing new checkpoints to ensure the flow of aid, de Mistura said.

“Russia and the U.S. are now expected ... to deliver the Castello Road new arrangement,” he said. “We heard today from the Russians that that is already taking place.”

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Dominic Evans