Source: CNN – by Susannah Cullinane (Kerry to Syria’s Assad regime: ‘Show some decency’)
Speaking at a media conference in Washington with his German counterpart Monday, Kerry said a February 11 agreement to implement a cessation of hostilities in Syria had already resulted in direct aid reaching 116,000 people.
But Kerry said he was concerned by reports that the regime “continues to drag its feet” in providing permits for the aid to get through.
“And so we call on the Assad regime to, at least in a moment of cessation of hostilities, try to show some measure of decency, if that is even possible.
“And our hope is that they will also stop their people, their troops and their officials who get in the way or manage these shipments, from actually putting their hands into the shipments and taking out medicine or taking out other preferred items simply to keep for themselves,” he said.
“So this obstructionism that has existed has to stop, and we call on the Russians and the Iranians to do everything in their power to leverage their client to understand the stakes here.”
The cessation of hostilities between a handful of rebel groups and the Assad regime began midnight Friday local time, excluding terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Nusra Front.
Kerry said that the U.N. hoped its aid would reach another 150,000 people this week and 1.7 million by the end of March, “providing that we can hold on to this process.”
Medical supplies ‘taken from convoys’
The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement Monday saying that many of its requests for medical aid delivery had not been approved by the Syrian authorities.
“In 2015, WHO submitted a total of 102 requests to the Government of Syria; 30 were approved and 72 went unanswered,” it said.
WHO Representative in Syria Elizabeth Hoff said in some cases life-saving medical supplies had been rejected and removed from aid convoys by government security forces.
“We are calling, once again, on all parties to this conflict to allow unhindered access and unconditional delivery of medical aid to all areas across Syria,” Hoff said.
The calls for the Syrian regime to allow unfettered access for humanitarian aid came as the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced that new funding would allow it to full reinstate its food assistance to Syrians.
The funds were pledged during a “Supporting Syria and the Region Conference” in London in January.
“The funds pledged will support a comprehensive restoration of food assistance for refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt from March until the end of the year. The funds will also enable WFP to provide a full food basket for families inside Syria from April until October 2016,” the WHO said.
But they have to get there first.
Earlier Monday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’Ad Al Hussein spoke out against sieges of towns and cities in Syria.
“The deliberate starvation of people is unequivocally forbidden as a weapon of warfare. By extension, so are sieges, which deprive civilians of essential goods such as food,” Hussein said in a statement. “And yet over 450,000 people are currently trapped in besieged towns and villages in Syria — and have been, in some cases, for years.
“Food, medicine and other desperately needed humanitarian aid is repeatedly obstructed. Thousands of people may have starved to death.”
Since the truce came into effect last week there has been a dramatic decrease in airstrikes around Syria’s rebel-held territory.
But the truce has not seen attacks stop completely.
Russia — which has signed 38 ceasefire agreements with different parties, meaning it won’t launch airstrikes on them — reported 15 violations on Monday, most of them around Damascus and in the provinces of Aleppo, Homs and Latakia.
“The [rising] number of cease-fire violations is caused by efforts taken by the #ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra leadership in order to foil the truce regime by shelling positions of government troops and … areas controlled by ‘moderate opposition,'” the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in the Syrian Arab Republic said in a statement.
Russian state news reported that artillery shells on Tuesday struck near a group of more than 30 journalists from Russia, China, Germany, Canada, Bulgaria, Greece and the United States on Tuesday in Syria’s Latakia province, a mile or so from the Turkish border. A handful of these journalists — who are on a press tour of areas controlled by parties who have signed onto the ceasefire — suffered minor injuries, according to a Sputnik story.
The al Nusra Front and ISIS carried out the shelling, Sputnik reported, citing a Syrian army source. But there was no immediate indication the journalists were specifically targeted, or even if either terror group knew where they were.
Moscow claims it hasn’t struck any “moderate” rebels since the truces went into effect, though its warplanes haven’t necessarily all stayed put.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said strikes had targeted the southern countryside of Hama, an area near Raqqa — the de facto capital of ISIS — and the Aleppo region.
A main Syrian opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, has sent letters detailing the alleged violations to the United Nations and all the members of the International Syria Support Group(ISSG) — except for Syria’s allies Russia and Iran.
The committee’s letter to the U.N. Security Council urges it to intervene immediately after “repeated violations by the regime and its allies.”
“We have agreed to the temporary truce as a response to sincere international efforts aiming to ease the suffering of the Syrian people and to assist in the implementation of the humanitarian provisions of UNSCR 2254, in particular: articles 12, 13 and 14,” it says.
Article 12 calls on the parties to the cessation agreement to allow humanitarian agencies rapid, safe and unhindered access throughout Syria and immediate, humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need.
“Failure to achieve any significant progress in this regard will leave us no option but to examine alternative measures to ensure the protection of the Syrian people and bring an end to the crimes committed against them,” the committee’s letter warns.
Improving the process
In his remarks Monday, Kerry said he had spoken to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and they both took reports of violations by both sides very seriously but did “not want to litigate these in a public fashion in the press.”
Referring to the committee’s letter, Kerry said Russia and the U.S. — co-chairs of the ISSG — were working to find out if violations had taken place or the attacks were legitimate engagements with ISIS or al Nusra, or both.
“We do not have at this point evidence to the effect that we would determine somehow that this is not resolvable or that we can’t keep improving the process,” he said.