By Tom Miles and Lisa Barrington
GENEVA, June 17 – An aid convoy carrying food, medicines and other emergency supplies for 37,500 people has reached al Waer, a besieged suburb of the Syrian city of Homs, a U.N. aid agency said on Friday.
“The convoy to al Waer was completed late last night and the team has returned safely to their base,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said. A second convoy, to supply the rest of the estimated 75,000 people in al Waer, is planned in the next few days.
A separate convoy, to Afrin in northern Aleppo, had also gone ahead but a delivery to the Damascus suburb of Kafr Batna had not, due to “last minute logistical complications”. The U.N. hoped it would proceed in the next few days, Laerke said.
The delivery to al Waer means only two besieged areas are still out of reach since the countries backing the U.N. peace process launched a weekly “humanitarian taskforce” meeting to push for better aid access in March.
The U.N. hopes to send convoys to the last two areas – Arbin and Zamalka in outlying suburbs of Damascus – within days, U.N. humanitarian advisor Jan Egeland said on Thursday, although the U.N. and Syrian government disagree how many people are there.
Egeland said aid agencies need sustained access to civilians, rather than the familiar “stop-go” situation whereby Syria’s government switches approvals for convoys on and off and some aid convoys get only conditional or partial clearance.
He noted that not a single siege had been lifted, despite apparent progress in aid access this month.
Riad Hijab, coordinator of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, said al Waer, the only part of Homs city not under government control, was on the brink of humanitarian disaster, and blamed the U.N. for capitulating to the government’s “siege and starvation tactics”.
“Al Waer’s residents have come under enormous pressure – because of dire humanitarian conditions, bombardment and starvation imposed by the Assad regime – to agree to a local truce.
“The United Nations Damascus office has helped the regime enforce the terms of this truce”, he said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
A campaign group this week accused the United Nations of letting the Syrian government dictate how aid is distributed, effectively allowing it to use starvation as a weapon of war.