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Russia Blocks UN Deliveries Of Food To Starving Syrians

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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The Russian government did not give the United Nations and World Food Programme permission to drop food in rebel-held territory in Syria, according to Thursday reports, despite the groups promising drops would start Wednesday.

The UN and WFP were supposed to deliver the food aid based on an agreement by the Vienna-based Syrian peace talks, of which Russia is a member. The Vienna framework originally stated in May that if permission was denied, air drops would begin Wednesday.

“Airdrops are much more complicated and much less effective, and so I think we need to continue to pursue with land deliveries,” Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations told Duetsche Welle.

Russia likely withheld its permission because it does not wish to strengthen rebel hold on Syrian territory. Russia’s denial follows a 48-hour ceasefire it declared just two days ago to allow a UN aid convoy to reach the Damascus suburbs of Daraya for the first time in three years. The humanitarian aid delivery only consisted of medical supplies instead of food, which outraged local citizens.

United Nations special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said the food drops were “not imminent.”

The United Nations likely does not want to proceed with the air drops without Russia’s consent because it may be able to persuade the Syrian regime to allow future aid convoys. The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond derided the decision to the Guardian clarifying that the legitimacy of the international community will be tarnished if the food drops do not proceed.

The areas that were supposed to receive food aid were largely densely populated urban areas where food drops would had to have been made by helicopter. Such helicopter flights would need safety clearance from the Syrian regime. UN Deputy Syrian Envoy Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy said at a press conference in Geneva, “You need the consent of government” and further clarified that the Syrian regime had not given any.

“The international community must now intensify pressure on the Syrian regime, including by delivering airdrops to all areas in need, to ensure that access is comprehensive, intensive and continuous,” Bassa Kodmani, a Syrian opposition leader, told the Guardian.

Ramzy stated the humanitarian delivery would be “put into effect at the earliest possible at the earliest possible date.” The United Nations estimates 592,000 people in Syria live in besieged areas with approximately 4 million facing food shortages.

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