Sat, Jan 09, 2016 - Page 1 News List

Syria agrees to let aid into villages as UN talks approach

Reuters and AP, BRUSSELS and BEIRUT

An International Committee of the Red Cross worker stands beside a truck carrying medical items in Syria on Oct. 18 last year.

Photo: AFP / HO / ICRC

The EU yesterday welcomed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s decision to allow humanitarian access to the town of Madaya and called for a halt to attacks ahead of peace talks later this month.

The war in Syria has killed an estimated quarter of a million people in nearly five years, ravaging the country and creating a breeding ground for militants as regional allies and global players back different sides in the conflict.

The UN hopes to convene talks between Damascus and the Syrian opposition on Jan. 25 and the blockade of Madaya, near the border with Lebanon, has become a focal issue for al-Assad’s opponents.

“The decision of the Syrian regime to allow humanitarian access in Madaya is a first step in the right direction,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said in a joint statement.

“The European Union welcomes it and expects it will be fully implemented and extended by all parties to all the cities under siege,” the statement said.

A new Syrian opposition group created to oversee peace negotiations has demanded that Damascus halt the bombardment of civilian areas and the use of barrel bombs and urged the Syrian government to release detainees before the talks, calls echoed by Mogherini and Stylianides.

“It will be important to implement concrete confidence-building measures in support of the upcoming intra-Syrian political talks scheduled to start at the end of January: an end to attacks on civilians, to aerial bombardments and sieges of civilian areas,” the EU statement said.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders [MSF] said 23 patients have died of starvation at a health center in one of three villages since Dec. 1, including six infants under one year old and five adults over the age of 60.

Activists have said that several people have died over the past weeks because of malnutrition.

Doctors Without Borders called for an immediate delivery of medicine and medical evacuations, in addition to food supplies to Madaya, where it reported the 23 deaths from starvation.

After the last, single food delivery in October, the siege of the village tightened into a complete stranglehold, the group said.

“Madaya is now effectively an open-air prison for an estimated 20,000 people, including infants, children and elderly,” MSF director of operations Brice de le Vingne said. “This is a clear example of the consequences of using siege as a military strategy.”

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