UN says Syria should allow aid convoy as ‘goodwill’ gesture

Jans Egeland, head of UN-backed humanitarian taskforce for Syria

NEW YORK CITY - A convoy set to deliver aid to the besieged Syrian area of Waer should be cleared by Damascus as a "goodwill" gesture ahead of peace talks in Geneva next week, the UN said Thursday.
Trucks filled with life-saving supplies are scheduled to go to Waer on Friday after receiving initial government approval, the head of the United Nations-backed humanitarian taskforce for Syria, Jan Egeland, told reporters.
But convoys have repeatedly been blocked at last minute by military or administrative obstacles.
"We have lined up convoys to Al-Waer to go tomorrow and to a number of other besieged and hard-to-reach locations in the coming days, which will be very important as a sign of goodwill as political negotiations are scheduled in Geneva," Egeland said.
Waer is the last remaining opposition stronghold in the central province of Homs.
Egeland said that with UN-brokered talks due to resume in Geneva on February 23 the Waer convoy was "a test case" after the government indicated it would strive to allow more aid through.
Rebel groups also regularly block convoys to areas they have under siege.
Egeland raised alarm over the looming prospect of starvation in the so-called "four towns", a group that includes government-controlled Fuaa and Kafraya in northwestern Idlib province as well as Zabadani and Madaya, two rebel-held towns near Damascus.
An elaborate deal to sustain aid flows to the four towns has largely stopped functioning, according to the UN.
"If we are not reaching the four towns... very soon we will see the scenes that we saw when the (humanitarian taskforce) started a year ago: people starving", he further said.
There are currently 80 people in the four towns in need of urgent medical evacuation, Egeland added.
As the UN readied for talks next week, representatives from the Syrian government and rebel groups were in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, for discussions brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran.
The Astana talks are expected to focus mostly on bolstering a faltering six-week truce and have been billed as a prelude to broader negotiations in Geneva.