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On eve of proposed truce in Syria, UN ready to provide humanitarian aid to thousands of families

An aid distribution centre inside Syria.
An aid distribution centre inside Syria.

On eve of proposed truce in Syria, UN ready to provide humanitarian aid to thousands of families

The United Nations refugee agency and its partners stand ready to send pre-positioned emergency aid packages to families in previously inaccessible areas of Syria if a proposed four-day ceasefire goes ahead this week during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

“We and our partners want to be in a position to move quickly if security allows over the next few days,” said the representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country, Tarik Kurdi. “There are areas around Aleppo, Idlib, Al Raqqa and Homs we have been unable to reach with humanitarian aid for some time. If there is a window of opportunity here, we will be ready to move.”

According to media reports, the Syrian army announced today that it would observe the ceasefire, although it reserved the right to respond to any rebel attack or attempts to reinforce the armed opposition, elements of which have indicated that they would also back the move.

While in Tehran last week, the UN and League of Arab States Joint Special Representative for the crisis in Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, had appealed to Iranian authorities to assist in achieving a ceasefire during Eid al-Adha, underscoring that such a move – during one of the holiest holidays celebrated by Muslims around the world – would help create an environment that would allow a political process to develop.

Starting on Friday, the religious observance of Eid al-Adha – or the Feast of the Sacrifice – commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God.

On Thursday, the head spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban said the UN chief welcomed the reported announcements of warring parties in Syria agreeing to observe the ceasefire.

“It’s important that all sides will adhere to this,” Martin Nesirky told a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York. “We all understand that there is a lack of trust between parties, and therefore we all understand that we cannot be sure yet what will transpire, but the hope is that guns will fall silent for the people of Syria, so that they have peace and quiet during this holy holiday.”

“Should the guns fall silent, should there be a suspension of violence, then humanitarian workers are ready to move in, convoys are ready to go, to be able to reach areas that have not been easily accessible because of the fighting,” Mr. Nesirky add. “So this would be UN humanitarian workers working with and through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.”

Some 550 tons of supplies are being made available for distribution to up to 13,000 affected families – about 65,000 people – UNHCR said in a news release. In Aleppo, one of the cities most affected by the violence, the agency has already pre-positioned 5,000 emergency family kits, and it hopes to rush nearly 2,000 more from Damascus to the eastern city of Homs today. Emergency kits will also be made available in the Al Raqqa governorate and areas south of Hassakeh over the weekend.

Each emergency family kit contains four mattresses, six blankets, one jerry can, a kitchen set, plastic sheeting and hygiene items, including sanitary napkins and soap.

UNHCR, which currently has more than 350 staff in three offices across Syria, said it has been working closely with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other partners to provide aid. It has also been carrying out an emergency cash assistance programme for displaced people, providing emergency funds for vulnerable families so they can pay rent or meet other critical.

“Despite the immense security challenges, the United Nations and humanitarian partners have managed to scale up and reach areas where people need help, including food for 1.5 million people in September and health assistance to 60,000 people including emergency care for the wounded,” said the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos.

“The fighting must stop before more lives are needlessly lost,” she added. “While the humanitarian operation is helping large numbers of people in many areas, it is hindered by lack of funding as well as insecurity and violence.”

More than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 20 months ago. A further 2.5 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid, and over 340,000 have crossed the border to Syria’s neighbouring countries, according to UN estimates.