UN aid convoys have delivered supplies for nearly 100,000 people in several besieged Syrian towns. Allowing delivery of humanitarian aid is a key test for warring parties ahead of planned UN-led peace talks.
Aid trucks carrying wheat, high-energy food and medical supplies rolled into the besieged Syrian towns of Moadamiyeh, Madaya and Zabadani, near Damascus, on Wednesday.
The aid deliveries are part of a UN-brokered deal that allowed aid to simultaneously reach the two Shiite towns of Fuaa and Kafraya in northern Idlib province, which have been under rebel siege.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said the aid deliveries were a "test" for the warring parties ahead of a shaky "cessation of hostilities" agreed to by international powers in Munich last week.
A ceasefire is scheduled to go into effect on Friday ahead of a resumption of stalled peace talks between the opposition and regime representatives on February 25. It's not the first time coordinated humanitarian deliveries have reached Madaya, Zabadani, Fuaa and Kafraya, but Wednesday's deliveries are the first since an agreement to expand humanitarian deliveries was reached in Munich.
The opposition walked out of earlier talks demanding humanitarian aid convoys be allowed to enter besieged towns, where there are reports of widespread starvation and malnutrition.
Almost half a million people in 15 towns are under siege by government, rebel and "Islamic State" forces, according to the United Nations.
The UN is demanding unrestricted humanitarian access to all besieged towns.
Hope amid escalation
A major international diplomatic drive to halt fighting and kick-start UN-mediated peace talks, launched last year, has struggled to gain traction, even after last week's talks in Munich to restart some sort of process.
The Syrian regime and allied Shiite militia have taken to the offensive in recent weeks, securing major battlefield gains around Aleppo with the support of Russian airstrikes.
The offensive has devastated rebel ranks and sent tens of thousands of civilians fleeing toward the Turkish border, prompting concerns of a mass exodus from Aleppo and the northern countryside. Meanwhile, rebel groups are under assault by regime forces and Russian airstrikes in southern Syria.
In northern Aleppo, Syrian Kurds and allied Arab forces under the banner of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have taken advantage of the rebel collapse and Russian airstrikes to advance on key strategic territory near the Turkish border.
Fearing Kurdish gains, Turkey has fired artillery at SDF positions and vowed to prevent Kurdish expansion. Turkey is a major backer of the rebel forces being devastated on the battlefield.
In response to the rebel collapse, Kurdish offensive and flood of refugees, Turkey has reiterated calls for a safe zone and called for the introduction of ground troops.
cw/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)