United Nations Urges Syria To Allow Air Drops To Besieged Areas
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Syria continues to prevent the United Nations from delivering desperately needed food to the Syrian people. The United States says Syria is stringing along the U.N. The regime has blocked truck convoys on the ground, and now aid workers are preparing to deliver supplies by air. But even that could depend on approval from the Syrian government, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.S. and its partners had set a June 1 deadline for the U.N. to start airdrops if Syria's government continued to block aid convoys on the ground. A week later, Syria is still blocking most aid. And now the U.N. says it's asking for permission for airdrops. That makes no sense to Fadi Hallisso, a Syrian who runs an aid group in Lebanon.
FADI HALLISSO: I don't understand this twisted logic of the U.N. when they are still insisting on having the permission of a government who has been starving its people to death.
KELEMEN: Halisso says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been clever in the way he confounds international pressure, allowing limited aid convoys every now and then. And he says the international community never really follows up on its demands for full humanitarian access.
HALLISSO: The record of the international community around Syria for the last five years was nothing but nonsense and empty promises.
KELEMEN: Halisso spoke to NPR by phone after meeting with Noah Gottschalk of the advocacy group Oxfam America. He too is frustrated by the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
NOAH GOTTSCHALK: While the policymakers are talking in their elite circles, people on the ground are starving, and I think it's high time we do something to address that need.
KELEMEN: Syria's ambassador to the U.N. denies that his government is blocking aid or even that Syrians are starving, but the U.N. says 400,000 Syrians are living under siege, blocked by Syrian government forces and their allies. State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau points to one town - Darayya, just a short drive from Damascus - which hasn't received food aid since 2012.
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ELIZABETH TRUDEAU: The people of Darayya are being brutalized by the regime through its blocking of food and basic supplies. We ask that Russia use its influence to end this inhumane policy.
KELEMEN: Russia, which sent warplanes to help the Assad regime, signed on to that statement last month promising to begin airdrops in June. The U.S. says the World Food Program plans to airdrop aid to four communities, including Darayya, and is waiting for Syria, which still controls much of its airspace, to ensure safe passage. Oxfam's Noah Gottschalk says airdrops are inefficient.
GOTTSCHALK: Airdrops are ultimately a last resort option. They're not going to provide any sort of substitute for the full, unimpeded humanitarian assistance which has been called for in the successive Security Council resolutions and which the people of Syria desperately need to be able to survive.
KELEMEN: And he says all those U.N. Security Council resolutions and statements haven't done much to improve the situation on the ground. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.