Syria withholding aid to 900,000 people, risking new violence in Aleppo, UN says

Syria's government is refusing the United Nation's demands to deliver aid to 905,000 people including in Aleppo, the city at the centre of an eruption of fighting in the past two weeks, UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said on Wednesday.

500 children on brink of starvation in town of Daraya

Refugees from Syria holds placards during a demonstration in the northern Greek border point of Idomeni, Greece, on Wednesday. The UN says the Syrian government denied their request to deliver aid to East Aleppo, which is one of the worst-hit areas of the country. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

Syria's government is refusing the United Nation's demands to deliver aid to 905,000 people including in Aleppo, the city at the centre of an eruption of fighting in the past two weeks, UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said on Wednesday.

"We seem to be having new possible besieged areas on our watch, we are having hundreds of relief workers unable to move in Aleppo," he told reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of nations supporting the Syria peace process.

"It is a disgrace to see that while the population of Aleppo is bleeding, their options to flee have never been more difficult than now."

The first major ceasefire in Syria's five-year civil war, sponsored by the United States and Russia, was struck in February but has virtually collapsed in recent weeks, with Aleppo bearing the brunt of the renewed bloodshed.

The humanitarian task force chaired by Egeland enjoyed some success in opening up access for aid in April, ensuring it reached 40 per cent of people in besieged areas in Syria, compared to 5 per cent in the whole of 2015. It has also overseen 22 airdrops of aid into the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, where 110,000 people are besieged by ISIS insurgents, Egeland said, about half the previous estimate of 200,000 people trapped there.

People inspect the damage at a site hit by airstrikes in Aleppo on April 28. Aleppo has seen increased bloodshed over the past two weeks. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

But progress has stalled and requests to the Syrian government to greenlight aid convoys to six remaining besieged areas in May have largely fallen on deaf ears.

500 children on brink of starvation

"We got an answer back that is not good news," Egeland said. "Half of the places in the May plan were not accepted, including east Aleppo."

That part of the city is under rebel control. President Bashar al-Assad's government put major conditions on aid to another 25 per cent of the people the United Nations had hoped to help, Egeland said.

A Red Crescent aid worker inspects scattered medical supplies after an airstrike on a medical depot in the rebel-held Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of Aleppo on April 30. Even hospitals have been the targets of attacks from both sides in the fighting. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

Among those getting a partial approval was the town of Daraya, where 4,000 people including 500 children are on "the brink of starvation".

The government said baby milk and school supplies could go in, Egeland said.

"But to some extent it's an improvement — the government earlier said there were only terrorists in Daraya and they are now admitting there are children there."

The United Nations has appealed to Assad's government to change its mind and allow aid without conditions to all places that were refused or got only a partial green light, he said.

Riad Hijab, Syrian opposition politician, said there needs to be a ceasefire for the entire country, not just parts of it. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Dead end with Assad, says opposition

Syrian opposition figure Riad Hijab, speaking before talks on the Syria crisis with German and French foreign ministers and the UN's Syria envoy, said that a general ceasefire was needed across the country, rather than one limited to specific areas.

The current formula was not working, said Hijab, adding that the opposition had reached a dead end with Assad in talks aimed at bringing at end to the war.

"There needs to be an agreement according to UN Security Council resolution 2268 that includes all Syrian areas where moderate opposition exists," he said before the talks in Berlin.

He said the opposition wanted a new initiative that set a clear timetable for a transition without the Syrian president and his supporters.