UN has ‘problem’ getting aid to Syria: lack of government OK

FILE -- This Thursday Sept. 1, 2016 file photo, provided by the Syria Press Center (SPC), an anti-government media group, shows civilians leaving the town of Suran, in Hama province, Syria. Five years of failed efforts to quell the fighting in Syria have persuaded many observers that the war, inconclusive and catastrophic on a historic scale, may be unresolvable. But a closer look at the landscape allows a glimmer of hope that a turning point may have been reached with the truce that took effect Monday, Sept. 12, 2016. (Syria Press Center via AP, File)

BEIRUT (AP) — The United Nations faces “a problem” in shipping humanitarian aid into Syria, the U.N. envoy for Syria said Thursday, pinning the blame squarely on a lack of authorizations from Bashar Assad’s government that has even disappointed the Syrian president’s key backer: Russia.

Staffan de Mistura says a U.S.-Russia brokered cease-fire deal agreed last week has largely reduced the violence since it came into effect Monday, but the humanitarian aid flows that were expected to follow have not materialized. He said 40 aid trucks are ready to move, and that the U.N. would prioritize the embattled, rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo.

The Syrian government has not provided needed “facilitation letters,” or permits, to allow for the start of the convoys, de Mistura said. He said the government had agreed Sept. 6 — before the cease-fire deal was inked — to allow aid into five areas, but the authorizations still haven’t come.

Aside from the reducing the bloodshed, the “second dividend” of the U.S.-Russia deal is humanitarian access: “That is what makes a difference for the people apart from seeing no more bombs or mortar shelling taking place,” de Mistura told reporters in Geneva.

“On that one, we have a problem,” he added. “It is particularly regrettable … These are days which we should have used for convoys to move with the permits to go because there is no fighting.”

“The Russian Federation is agreeing with us,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, activists said the cease-fire was still holding despite some violations. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces and opposition fighters were ready to withdraw from the Castello road, a main artery into Aleppo, to hand it over to Russian troops.

It said government forces will not start pulling out until the rebels begin to do the same.

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