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Eastern Aleppo could soon be besieged, UN warns

The Syrian government has refused a UN request for humanitarian aid access to rebel-held eastern Aleppo, the UN said Wednesday, warning that the area could soon be besieged.

“The horrific fighting and bombardment in recent days, especially in and around Aleppo, is creating new areas with endless suffering and no access for humanitarians,” said Jan Egeland, who heads an international humanitarian taskforce for the war-ravaged country.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the taskforce created in February by the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG), he said the situation in Aleppo needed to change immediately.

“If not, eastern Aleppo may even become a besieged area,” he warned.

Syria’s second city has over nearly two weeks been hit by a wave of violence, including numerous attacks on hospitals and other medical facilities, that has killed more than 270 people.

Washington and Moscow are working together to include Aleppo in a so-called “regime of silence” — a freeze in fighting — aimed at bolstering a broader, but now crumbling truce in place since February 27.

Egeland said the efforts by the United States and Russia “couldn’t be more important.”

But, he stressed, “we don’t need declarations. We need an end of the bombardment and end to fighting.”

“It is a catastrophe that medical relief has been targeted, that doctors and nurses are killed while the population is bleeding,” he said.

Since February, there have been efforts to dramatically scale up humanitarian aid access to the some half million people living in besieged areas and the some four million others in so-called hard-to-reach parts of Syria.

For the month of May, the UN had requested permits to access 35 locations, counting more than 905,000 inhabitants.

But Egeland said the response from Damascus was “not good news,” granting access to only a quarter of the people requested.

Permits were granted for another quarter, but with numerous conditions attached, and “half of the places in the May plan were not accepted, including east Aleppo,” he said.

He said “hundreds of relief workers, hundreds of trucks” were waiting to go into eastern Aleppo with desperately needed aid.

“What we need are two things: an end to the fighting, and… permission to go to the suffering people,” he said.

A group representing some 850 doctors and other medical workers on the ground in Syria meanwhile decried the “systematic” attacks on health facilities.

Tawfik Chamaa, the general secretary of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, told reporters Aleppo was heading for “humanitarian disaster” due to lacking access to health care.

“Besieging eastern Aleppo would mean that we are heading straight for… a situation akin to the scale of Srebrenica,” he said, referring to the Bosnian town where some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed just months before the end of the 1992-1995 inter-ethnic war in Bosnia.