Middle East

Syrian conflict: UN first air drop delivers aid to Deir al-Zour

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Aid parcels and boxes are offloaded from vehicles in a warehouse in Idlib Image copyright AFP
Image caption More than 480,000 Syrians are living in besieged areas in Syria, the UN says

The UN says it has carried out its first air drop of aid in Syria to help civilians in an eastern city besieged by Islamic State (IS) militants.

UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien told the Security Council that the plane dropped 21 tonnes of humanitarian items on a government-held part of Deir al-Zour.

Initial reports indicated that the aid had successfully reached the target area, Mr O'Brien said.

The UN says 200,000 civilians are living under siege in Deir al-Zour.

In a recent report, the UN said those trapped in the besieged areas were facing "sharply deteriorating conditions" with reports of "severe cases of malnutrition and deaths due to starvation".

Last week, more than 100 lorries carrying food and other basic goods reached 80,000 people in five other besieged areas of Syria. Two more convoys were sent to two towns besieged by government forces on Tuesday.

In another development on Wednesday, the main Syrian opposition umbrella group said it would respect a provisional ceasefire due to come into force on Saturday "for two weeks".

The statement from the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) came after the Syrian government also said it would observe the "cessation of hostilities" brokered by the US and Russia.

"Earlier this morning, a WFP (World Food Programme) plane dropped the first cargo of 21 tonnes of items into Deir al-Zour," Mr O'Brien told the Security Council.

He said teams from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent on the ground confirmed that "pallets have landed in the target area as planned".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Convoys of lorries delivered aid to 800,000 people across Syria last week

BBC UN correspondent Nick Bryant says the air drop is a last resort by aid agencies after warring parties blocked access to the city.

Convoys of lorries are considered the most efficient form of delivery for much-needed supplies, he says.

The World Food Programme had previously ruled out humanitarian air drops in Syria due to the complexities of obtaining use of airspace, organising distribution on the ground, and finding suitable drop zones.

The UK government also said air drops were "high risk and should only be considered as a last resort when all other means have failed".

But Jan Egeland, who chairs a humanitarian taskforce, said last week that the strategy was the only way to feed people in Deir al-Zour.

The UN estimates that more than 480,000 Syrians are living in besieged areas, with four million more people in "hard-to-reach" areas.

Last week, convoys of aid lorries reached rebel-held Muadhamiya, Madaya and Zabadani, near Damascus, and pro-government northern villages of Foah and Kefraya.

The supplies are expected to last for about a month.

All sides in the civil war are believed to have used siege warfare, in which forces surround an area and cut off essential supplies, in breach of international law.

The temporary "cessation of hostilities" is scheduled to take effect across Syria on Saturday after midnight Damascus time (22:00 GMT Friday).

It excludes IS and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

The Syrian government has said it will observe the partial ceasefire, but insists it will continue to fight IS, al-Nusra and "other terrorist groups linked to them".

On Tuesday, the HNC warned that its acceptance of the truce was "conditional" on the implementation of a UN resolution that calls on all parties to lift sieges, allow aid deliveries, halt aerial and artillery attacks on civilians, and release detainees.

Where the aid is going