First aid convoy since 2012 reaches Syrian suburb
02 June 2016, 08:20
Beirut - A besieged suburb of Syria's capital received humanitarian aid on Wednesday for the first time since 2012, as the United Nations said it was looking into "every possible means" to reach besieged Syrians now that a deadline set by world powers has passed.
Elsewhere in Syria, Kurdish-led fighters aided by US-led airstrikes launched a new advance on the northern town of Manbij, an Islamic State stronghold on a key supply route linking the Turkish border to Raqqa, the extremist group's de facto capital.
UN spokesperson Josephine Guerrero said the "main priority" is to access 592 700 people in besieged areas and millions more in hard-to-reach areas facing severe food shortages.
The International Committee for the Red Cross reported that a joint convoy with the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent entered the Damascus suburb of Daraya in the afternoon. The UN estimates that between 4 000 to 8 000 people currently live in the suburb.
Daraya has been subject to a crippling government blockade since residents expelled security forces in the early stages of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad.
A 36-truck aid convoy entered neighbouring Moadamiyeh, which is also under government siege, around the same time. The suburb last received aid one month ago.
The Russian military, which has been carrying out airstrikes since September to bolster Assad's forces, said earlier in the day that the government had agreed to a 48-hour cease-fire around Daraya.
The US- and Russia-led International Syria Support Group last month called on the UN to "immediately carry out a programme for air bridges and air drops for all areas in need" starting June 1 if it was denied access to designated areas. The UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has called air drops, which cost more than land delivery, a "last resort."
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia that includes Arab fighters, have meanwhile approached to within 14km of Manbij. The SDF announced a campaign to advance on areas around Raqqa, the de facto capital of the ISIS group's self-styled caliphate, last week.
"There are tens of casualties among fighters and evacuating civilians," said Nasser Haj Mansour, an adviser to the SDF. "Daesh is using its entire means to stop the forces," he said, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighters had recaptured at least 16 villages from ISIS. The monitoring group, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said coalition airstrikes supporting the advance have killed 15 civilians in the past 24 hours.
The Observatory said coalition aircraft struck at least one bridge between Manbij and Jarablus, a town on the Turkish border under ISIS-control. An ISIS-affiliated news agency said coalition aircraft bombed all bridges between the two towns.