UN aid convoy looted in Syria as supplies remain blocked

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A convoy bringing aid to a besieged area in Syria was seized by gunmen who looted the supplies and roughed up the drivers just days before peace talks, a top UN official said Wednesday.

Only three convoys have reached rebel-held towns over the past two months in what UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien described as “a zero or near-zero” rate of assistance to Syrians living under siege in the nearly six-year war.

This week, two convoys were scheduled to reach opposition-held Waer near the central city of Homs, but one was forced to turn back due to sniper fire en route on Sunday.

Also read: UN mediator expects ‘no breakthrough’ in Syria talks

The following day, shelling and gunfire prevented trucks from reaching the town, but on the way back to a warehouse, gunmen diverted the convoy to a “government-controlled area,” O’Brien told the Security Council.

“The drivers and trucks were temporarily detained, and some drivers were reportedly roughed up, but have since been released, without humanitarian supplies, and everyone is safe and accounted for,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien condemned the incident as a “blatant disregard for the protection of humanitarian workers” and said efforts would continue to try to reach Waer, where 50,000 civilians have not received any assistance in nearly four months.

In the besieged towns of Madaya and Kefraya, five people have died in recent days, among them a mother who died giving birth, O’Brien said.

Syria’s main opposition group said Wednesday it wanted face-to-face discussions with government representatives, a day before the start of a new round of peace talks in Geneva.

“We ask for direct negotiations... It would save time and be proof of seriousness instead of negotiating in (separate) rooms,” Salem al-Meslet, spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) umbrella group, told AFP.

During three previous rounds of talks in Geneva last year, the two sides never sat down at the same table, instead leaving UN mediator Staffan de Mistura to shuttle between them. This time, de Mistura has voiced hope that he will manage to bring the two sides together for direct talks.

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