By Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles
GENEVA, Sept 22 – The United Nations appealed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups on Thursday to allow aid convoys to enter eastern Aleppo as U.N. relief operations in Syria resumed after a 48-hour suspension due to a deadly attack.
A U.N. convoy loaded with medical and other supplies was heading to the rebel-held besieged Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya. The U.N hopes to send others to besieged areas in Idlib and near the Lebanese border in coming days.
The world body suspended land deliveries after the 31-truck convoy was attacked on Monday night at Urem al-Kubra in western Aleppo. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent says a staff member and around 20 civilians were killed and a warehouse destroyed.
“Forty trucks are sitting at the Turkish-Syrian border, the food will be expiring on Monday. The drivers are sleeping at the border, and they have done that now for a week,” U.N. humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland told reporters in Geneva.
“So please, President Assad, do your bit to enable us get to eastern Aleppo and also the other besieged areas. We also have to get assurances in the east Aleppo case from the armed oppposition groups to enter,” he said of the divided northern city.
U.S. officials believe Russian aircraft were responsible for the strike, but Moscow has denied involvement and the Russian Defence Ministry said on Wednesday a U.S. Predator drone was in the area when the convoy was attacked.
“The devastating sustained attack at our convoy at Big Urem outside Aleppo this Monday is the worst attack ever sustained on a cross-line, cross-border convoy,” Egeland said on Thursday.
The attack left a “tremendous cloud” over the whole system for obtaining authorisations from all warring sides “that is the pre-condition for a lifeline to millions of people”, he added.
“Today we hope to enter Mouadamiya, a very important town where people have been suffering for very long and where they feel squeezed by all armed actors.”
Elizabeth Hoff, the World Health Organization representative in Syria, told Reuters on Wednesday that the U.N. health agency planned to deliver medical supplies on Thursday to Mouadamiya.
Egeland said the U.N. also hoped to deliver aid to rebel-besieged towns of Foua and Kufreya in Idlib and government-blockaded Madaya and Zabadani near the Lebanese border within days.
“Madaya is a place where people have been starving and where there was a meningitis epidemic. We’re loading, we hope to go soon,” he said. “We need a re-boot, we need a re-start for security assurances, guarantees for the humanitarian lifeline.”