Aid Groups Say Government, Opposition Both Blocking Aid to Syrian Civilians

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Fakih: ISIS has been pushed further east from Aleppo. They are no longer present around Bab al-Salam camps and one of the camps leading into Idlib – these are two critical border crossings that should be opened, and the U.N. should be using to deliver assistance to residents of those areas.

We have heard about fighting between opposition groups that has cut off delivery routes to some areas in northern Syria across conflict lines, and there have been cases where extremist armed opposition groups have threatened aid deliveries.

The U.N. secretary-general's report said there were two incidents where opposition fighters were restricting access to aid: Jabhat al-Nusra failed to give adequate security assurances, and in another case, an armed opposition group beat Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers near the central prison in Aleppo. But it was quite clear from the report that the humanitarian restrictions are largely caused by the government.

SD: Has there been any change in access to areas under siege or areas classified as hard to reach?

Fakih: The Security Council resolution demanded that all parties “immediately lift the sieges of populated areas,” including government sieges in Moadamiya, Homs, western Ghouta, eastern Ghouta and the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk in south Damascus, and sieges by opposition armed groups on Nubul and Zahra.

Based upon a report presented by the U.N. secretary-general, the Syrian government "continues to block aid to an estimated 175,000 civilians in areas under government siege, while armed opposition forces block aid to an estimated 45,000 civilians in other besieged areas."

The report also estimated that 3.5 million people in 258 “hard to access” places inside Syria urgently need assistance. Human Rights Watch conducted a field investigation in one of these locations, the Bab al-Salam IDP camp, located just across from Kilis, on the Syrian-Turkish border.

There are approximately 16,000 people living in this camp; the vast majority of them fled Aleppo city and the countryside, because of the government’s indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and aerial campaign and bombardment areas. Residents of the camp said that residents were constructing improvised bathrooms that resulted in open sewage pits across the camp.

The director of the Bab al- Salam camp also said that the hospital lacked adequate medications including for leishmania, a vector-borne disease that causes welts on the skin.

The basic needs of residents are not being met, despite the fact that the camp is located within walking distance of the Turkish border.

Touma: On my recent trip to Nusaybin, the trucks stopped just in front of a closed gate. I could not go in as I did not have a visa to Syria. I reached a metal fence and heard my colleague El-Tayeb call me from just across the fence on the Syrian side. El-Tayeb and I had never met before, but had been constantly on the phone coordinating and planning for this convoy.

I stood talking to him through the fence and thought how it was only a fence that separated humanitarian assistance from reaching children in need in Syria.

SD: What are your next steps?

Fakih: Based upon the U.N. secretary-general's report, it is quite clear that the Syrian government is largely responsible for restrictions to humanitarian aid access.

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