Britain, France pressure UN over Syria aid drops
Britain and France urged the United Nations to begin humanitarian air drops to Syria's besieged areas including a rebel-held town near Damascus after the first aid convoy there in years contained no food.
In northern Syria, a US-supported Kurdish-Arab alliance on Thursday pressed its advance towards the town of Manbij held by the Islamic State jihadist group.
A US-led coalition is backing offensives against the extremists in Syria and neighbouring Iraq where forces have surrounded the IS-held city of Fallujah.
Humanitarian access in Syria has been a key sticking point in stalled UN-backed peace talks aimed at ending the five-year war that has killed at least 280,000 people and displaced millions.
Last month the United Nations said if it did not see improvement on aid access to besieged areas by June 1, it would task the World Food Programme to carry out air drops.
Calls from London and Paris for aerial aid came despite supply deliveries on Wednesday to two towns besieged by government forces where civilians are facing food shortages.
A local truce allowed a convoy to enter the town of Daraya near Damascus for the first time since late 2012, while another entered the nearby town of Moadamiyeh for the first time since March.
But Syria's opposition said only medical supplies were in the Daraya delivery and British charity Save the Children said it was "shocking and completely unacceptable" that it excluded desperately needed food.
- 'Too little, too late'-
According to the United Nations, a total of 592,000 people live under siege in Syria -- the majority surrounded by government forces -- and another four million live in hard-to-reach areas.
Britain has called for an emergency Security Council meeting Friday to discuss humanitarian access and to press ahead with air drops.
"It's too little, too late," said British envoy Matthew Rycroft, referring to Wednesday's land deliveries.
French ambassador Francois Delattre, who holds the council presidency this month, blamed the Syrian regime for blocking access to towns and villages under siege.
"France is asking the United Nations and in particular the WFP to begin humanitarian air drops for all the areas in need, beginning with Daraya, Moadamiyeh and Madaya, where the civilian population including children risks dying of hunger," Delattre told a press conference.
Madaya became infamous in late 2015 after dozens starved in the town, which is besieged by pro-government forces.
It however remains unclear whether the Syrian government will give its approval for air drops.
Staunch regime ally Russia on Wednesday said that the local truce in Daraya would be observed until Friday 00:01 am (2101 GMT) to allow for aid deliveries.
But Russia's ambassador Vitaly Churkin suggested that plans to airdrop humanitarian relief could be put on hold.
"Airdrops are much more complicated and much less effective and so I think we need to continue to pursue with land deliveries," Churkin said.
- Anti-IS offensive -
In north Syria, fighters from a Kurdish-Arab alliance on Thursday were 10 kilometres (six miles) outside the IS-held town of Manbij, a monitor said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces alliance had seized 20 villages outside the town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"The clashes are very violent and IS is putting up fierce resistance," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The US-backed SDF last week launched an offensive north of the jihadists' Syrian stronghold of Raqa city.
This week the alliance opened a new front towards Manbij, which lies on a key supply route between the IS-held town of Jarabulus on the Turkish border and Raqa.
Syria's main opposition group on Wednesday called on the UN to implement a truce in all Syria except areas under IS control during the upcoming month of Ramadan.
The High Negotiations Committee did not mention excluding areas held by Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front from the truce beginning early next week.
Both IS and Al-Nusra were excluded in February from a nationwide ceasefire between the regime and rebels, brokered by Russia and the US, that is now largely in tatters.
© 2016 AFP