U.N. documents show Assad using starvation policy

The documents show that Assad’s regime has cut off food supplies in opposition-held areas to exert more pressure on Syrian rebels

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While the U.N. envoy to Syria warned that the central city of Homs has become a “theater of death and destruction,” U.N. documents obtained by Foreign Policy show that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had engaged in a policy of cutting off food supplies to opposition-held areas to exert more pressure on Syrian rebels.

Cutting the food supplies has made Assad’s regime the “only reliable source of life-sustaining food,” Foreign Policy said in an article it published Friday.

Paradoxically, Assad’s policy has helped U.N. agencies to send more food to the needy Syrian population, especially as more people move from the targeted rebel-held areas to areas held by the Syrian government.

“The increase in distributions ... was to a large extent a result of large population movements from non-government controlled areas” to government-controlled areas “as people sought refuge,” Foreign Policy quoted the U.N. document as saying.

According to the obtained documents, the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) has scored some successes in distributing more food to Syrians in the two months since the Security Council adopted its first-ever resolution demanding that Assad and the rebels to provide access for aid workers.

The new data show that food supplies have reached about 415,000 people in hard-to-reach areas since the resolution was passed in February.

In Syria as a whole, WFP reached to 4.1 million people in dire need for food in March, up from 3.7 million the previous month.

Not enough

But Foreign Policy sounded the alarm that many more remain outside the U.N.’s reach and that at least 9.3 million people are in need of steady humanitarian assistance.

While the number of government-controlled areas receiving food far outstrips rebel strongholds, new delivery areas include opposition areas such as Douma and the province of Raqqa, which is in the grip of the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Oubai Shahbandar, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian Coalition, told Foreign Policy that the data was “shocking” and a “major scandal.”

While he said WFP has “marginally” enhanced “its ability to get into a small percentage of liberated territories,” he lamented that the “majority of the aid is still filtered through the Assad regime.”

Both to be blamed?

But according to the documents, the Assad regime cannot be fully blamed as the reduction in aid distribution points occurred between June and February when infighting between rival opposition groups took place.

Abeer Etefa, a spokesperson for the WFP’s Middle East Region said “both sides have prevented assistance from reaching people.”

Etefa said the rebel groups controlling parts of Deir Ezzour and Raqqa prevented the WFP from delivering food into northeast Syria.

She also said: “There are areas besieged by the Syrian government where access is denied or where both sides have been unable to negotiate a compromise that will allow access, as is the case in eastern and rural Aleppo.”

Plea to save Homs

Meanwhile, the U.N. envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi urged on Thursday both sides in the country’s civil war to return to negotiations which broke off in February, especially since has been witnessing heavy fighting.

An agreement on a weeklong cease-fire that allowed more than 1,000 civilians to leave Homs’ rebel-held areas was hailed as the only achievement of the recent Geneva peace talks that Brahimi mediated.

The deal did not hold, however, and fighting between Assad’s forces and the rebels trying to overthrow him has raged on for weeks in Homs.

The U.N. Security Council met late Thursday on the humanitarian situation in Homs but emerged without having reached agreement on a press statement proposed by Britain, the Associated Press reported.

Instead, the current council president, Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu, announced that members had “grave concern” about the impact of the violence on civilians in Homs and a call for the “immediate” implementation of a resolution passed earlier this year that calls on all sides in the conflict to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

That resolution was a rare agreement by the council on Syria. Russia, a key ally, has blocked three previous resolutions that would have pressured Assad to end the conflict.

(With the Associated Press)