The UN, backed by the US, Britain and other powers, on Friday urged the Syrian government to end all sieges and allow UN airdrops of aid to hundreds of thousands of people trapped across conflict-torn Syria.
According to the UN, nearly 600,000 people are besieged in 19 different areas in Syria, with two-thirds trapped by government forces and the rest by armed opposition groups and Islamic State militants.
UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council the world body would today ask Syria to approve airdrops or airlifts of aid into besieged areas where only partial or no land access had previously been granted, said French Representative to the UN Francois Delattre, president of the council this month.
“I told the council that the operating space for humanitarian actors is shrinking as violence and attacks across Syria increase,” O’Brien said in a statement.
“We need the consent of the Syrian government and all necessary security guarantees, in order to conduct airdrops,” he added.
The calls to allow humanitarian aid came as the Syrian army, backed by Russian airstrikes, on Friday opened a major new front against the Islamic State, the third big assault on the self-proclaimed caliphate this week after Iraqi forces attempted to storm a city and a Syrian militia advanced with US support.
The week’s three big offensives are some of the most aggressive campaigns against the Islamic State since it declared its aim to rule over all Muslims from parts of Iraq and Syria two years ago. They signal apparent new resolve by the group’s disparate foes on a range of fronts.
Heavy Russian airstrikes on Friday hit Islamic State-held territory in eastern areas of Syria’s Hama Governorate, near the boundary of al-Raqqah Governorate. Al-Raqqah city, further east, is the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria and, along with Mosul in Iraq, the ultimate goal of those seeking to destroy the group’s rule.
The Syrian army had advanced about 20km and was now near the edge of the provincial boundary, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the war.
Separately, US-backed militias, including a Syrian Kurdish force called the YPG and new Arab allies recruited to fight alongside it, have been pressing a multipronged attack against the Islamic State in other parts of al-Raqqah and the neighboring Aleppo Governorate.
This week, they began a push toward the city of Manbij near the Turkish border, aiming to seize the last 80km stretch of Turkish-Syrian frontier under Islamic State control and cut the group’s main external link for manpower and supplies.
The US military on Friday said its allies were advancing against heavy resistance from the Islamic State. If successful, the Manbij campaign would free 40,000 civilians from Islamic State control.
The YPG and its Arab allies, who last year formed the Syria Democratic Forces, have proven to be the first force in Syria allied with the US that has been effective in fighting against the Islamic State.
The group has taken 28 villages from the Islamic State in its push toward Manbij, and had freed more than a dozen women from the Yazidi minority who were taken by Islamic State fighters from Sinjar in Iraq, the observatory said.
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