By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations aid chief asked the Security Council on Monday to push for a weekly 48-hour humanitarian pause in fighting to allow food and other aid to be delivered to eastern areas of the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Around 250,000 to 275,000 people in rebel-held eastern Aleppo have been cut off since fighting closed the last supply route, the Castello Road, on July 7. U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien said the United Nations and partners had pre-positioned stocks in “sad but all too real anticipation of such developments.”
“But food in east Aleppo is expected to run out by the middle of next month,” O’Brien told the 15-member council. “The international community simply cannot let eastern Aleppo city become yet another, and by far the largest, besieged area.”
He said any humanitarian pause needed to be 48 hours because the Castello Road was so damaged that only smaller trucks could be used, taking longer to deliver the assistance needed.
O’Brien’s call for a weekly 48-hour pause was backed by the United States, Britain, France and others. Britain is drafting a council statement, diplomats said. Such statements have to be agreed by consensus. Japanese Ambassador Koro Bessho, council president for July, said there was “overwhelming support” for the request.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces must halt their attacks on Aleppo and reopen the Castello Road. Russia began supporting Assad’s troops in September with air strikes.
Power added that attempts to broker an end to the five year war “requires a period of reduced violence and if Aleppo remains under siege it is hard to see how this is going to work.”
U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura is scheduled to meet senior U.S. and Russian officials on Tuesday in Geneva.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the Castello Road was used to supply “terrorists with weapons and armaments, as well as for the passage of jihad mobiles with suicide bombers.”
Churkin said that by day people in the eastern areas of Aleppo can move to the western part of the city, “where the situation is significantly better” although he acknowledged “a need to prevent a humanitarian disaster.”
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told the Security Council that the government had not cut access on the Castello Road and said “terrorists” were to blame.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)