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Syria: UN calls for one-month ceasefire to allow aid access

The UN has warned there will be "dire consequences" as a result of the humanitarian crisis if aid access is not granted. The international aid organization has outlined seven areas most in need of aid across Syria.

The United Nations in Syria on Tuesday called for a one-month ceasefire in the country to allow the delivery of desperately needed supplies and medical care to civilians caught up in fighting.

Jan Egeland, the head of a UN task force on humanitarian aid in Syria, said 7,878 people were displaced per day in 2017 (equating to around 240,000 per month) especially in areas such as Deir el-Zour, Raqqa, Aleppo, and rural Damascus.

Read more: UN warns of humanitarian disaster, displacement in northwest Syria

The UN said the following areas were most in need of aid:

- Afrin: Ongoing Turkish military operations and the reported blockage of exits by other forces have trapped many civilians preventing them from accessing safer areas. So far, 380 families have managed to reach surrounding neighborhoods but thousands of people remain displaced.

- Hasaka: An agreement was reached to allow some UN partners to continue their work in Hasaka but after a month most humanitarian assistance came to a close. The agreement is only for a period of two months and covers a limited number of partners. A ceasefire for Hasaka was agreed upon between the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia and the Syrian army in August 2016.

- Raqqa: The UN said the "devastation is unparalleled and conditions remain unsafe," in the former "Islamic State" (IS) stronghold, which was liberated in October 2017. Many civilians are killed and injured by unexploded ordinance while attempting to return home. "Services are absent" and access for aid workers is almost impossible due to unsafe conditions.

- Idlib: Military operations in what is one of the last rebel-held stronghold have resulted in increased casualties and the movement of civilians — about 1.2 million out of 2.4 million civilians have been internally displaced. "With the high concentration of displaced people, the Governorate may not be able to withstand the consequences of renewed fighting," the UN said. The towns of Foah and Kafraya in Idlib continue to be besieged by non-State armed groups.

- Rukban: Civilians in Rukban camp,  a no-man's land between the Syrian and Jordanian border, are inaccessible to the UN team in Syria. The last aid supply of food and other items was from across the border in early January.

- Eastern Ghouta: "Humanitarian needs are increasing and life-saving aid is urgently required," in the rebel-stronghold the UN said, but people in need have not been reached with inter-agency assistance since late November 2017. "Fighting and retaliatory shelling from all parties is impacting civilians in this region and Damascus causing scores of deaths and injuries," the statement said.

- In IS-held areas, in Yarmouk Camp and other locations in Syria, civilians continue to be held captive, subjected to violence and coercion.

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'Dire consequences'

The UN warned of "dire consequences" due to the humanitarian crisis, adding that if access was granted, three convoys could be dispatched each week, reaching more than 700,000 people in these areas in two months.

Read more: Are Turkey and Russia at odds in northern Syria?

"The agreed inter-agency bi-monthly plan to reach besieged and hard-to-reach areas is paralyzed due to access restrictions or lack of agreement concerning locations, supplies and number of beneficiaries," the statement said.

Read more: NATO: US and Turkey aiming to prevent direct clashes in Afrin

Earlier this month,  Egeland, had said the situation in Idlib province was "screaming for a ceasefire."

More than 300,000 killed

The conflict, which has continued for almost seven years, has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced millions.

Regime and allied forces are currently engaged in military operations against rebels and jihadists in a number of areas, including the northwestern province of Idlib and the outskirts of Damascus.

Read more: Turkey launches offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin in Syria

On January 19, Turkish forces backing Syrian rebels launched a major operation against the Kurdish-controlled region of Afrin in the north of the country.

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law/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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