First aid convoy in months reaches town east of Damascus | News | DW | 14.02.2018
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First aid convoy in months reaches town east of Damascus

The rebel-held town of Nashabiyah in Syria has received its first humanitarian aid convoy since November 2017. But the UN Syria envoy underlined that an uptick in fighting has made the situation "violent and worrying."

The United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the Security Council on Wednesday that the conflict in Syria was as bad as it has ever been in its nearly eight-year duration. 

"This is as violent and worrying and dangerous a moment as any that I have seen in my time as special envoy," De Mistura said. He has been the UN's negotiator there since 2014.

His warning came the same day that more than 7,200 people in Syria received aid and food supplies from a UN convoy, the first to access the area in months.

Overdue aid

Located 19 kilometers (12 miles) east of Damascus in the eastern Ghouta area, the rebel-held town, which is home to 400,000 people, had not received aid since the end of November 2017.

Read more: US investigating possible sarin gas attacks in Syria: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

"It is way overdue," said Linda Tom of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Damascus.

Tom said the government only granted permission for access to Nashabiyah. The convoy of nine trucks contained medicine, food and nutritional aid, supplied by the UN and the Syrian Red Crescent.

De-escalation agreements ignored

De Mistura also reiterated UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' prior calls on all parties involved in the fighting "to de-escalate immediately and unconditionally." However, previous de-escalation agreements backed by Russia have proven difficult to sustain, and violence has flared across Syria in the last few weeks.

In her remarks to the Security Council on Wednesday, US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, called on Russia to use its influence over Syrian President Bashar Assad to draw down the conflict. 

"Now is the time for Russia to use that leverage," she said, to "push the Assad regime to do what it plainly does not want to do."

Russia intervened in the war in 2015 on the side of Assad and has been pushing for a peace settlement in talks separate from the UN-led ones in Geneva.

Read more: Russia-backed Syria peace conference in Sochi gets off to rocky start

The UN had previously warned of catastrophic conditions in eastern Ghouta and called for a ceasefire to allow aid access, but the military offensive continued.

Government troops have intensified a military campaign against eastern Ghouta, renewing a push to seize the area where a number of towns have been held by the rebels since 2012.

Chemical weapons a 'red line'

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said that "France will strike" if chemical weapons were used against civilians in Syria, but that he was yet to see proof of their use.

In May 2017, Macron said he had set a "red line" at the use of chemical weapons.

During a trip to Amman, Jordan on Wednesday, US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration had a "fairly well advanced" peace plan, which has been under development for a number of months.

Regarding Syria, Tillerson said he was "quite concerned" about a recent cross-border escalation between Iran and Israel on Syrian territory and called on Iran to withdraw its military from the Syrian conflict.

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law, cmb/kms (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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