UN looks to using helicopters for Syria aid drops

BEIRUT, LEBANON, Rana Moussaoui with Nina Larson in Geneva- Helicopters could be used to deliver aid to besieged areas of Syria, the UN said Thursday, on the eve of an emergency meeting of the Security Council about the issue.
In northern Syria, meanwhile, a US-backed alliance of Kurds and Arabs pressed its advance towards the town of Manbij held by the Islamic State jihadist group.

And in Syria's second city Aleppo, six children were among 19 civilians killed in regime bombing, the civil defence said, while in the government coastal stronghold of Latakia, a suicide bombing near a mosque killed at least two people.
Humanitarian access in Syria has been a key sticking point in stalled UN-backed peace talks aimed at ending the five-year war that has killed at least 280,000 people and displaced millions.
Last month the United Nations said that if it did not see improvement on aid access to besieged areas by June 1, it would task the UN food agency to carry out airdrops.
A deputy to the UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said "as long as the World Food Programme has not yet finalised its plans, I don't think there's something imminent."
Ramzi Ezzedine Ramzi said airdrops were "very complex" and would need Damascus' approval.
But UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said helicopters would have to be used to carry aid to 15 of 19 besieged areas with urban or semi-urban densely-populated towns.
"In urban areas, airdrops are not feasible, so you are talking about the use of helicopters," he said.
"One can imagine the security challenges for that -- plus the security challenges of flying helicopters over the skies of Syria."
The Security Council is due to meet on Friday to discuss the UN plan for airdrops.
- 'Too little, too late'-
On Wednesday land deliveries reached two towns besieged by government forces where civilians are facing food shortages.
A truce allowed a convoy to enter Daraya near Damascus for the first time since late 2012, while another entered nearby Moadamiyeh for the first time since March.
But the opposition said only medical supplies were in the Daraya delivery and Save the Children said it was "shocking and completely unacceptable" that it excluded desperately needed food.
An estimated 8,000 people live in Daraya, one of the first towns in Syria to erupt in anti-government demonstrations in 2012 and one of the first under a strict regime siege the same year.
"Daraya needs everything," said an activist there.
"Some items come in through smuggling because some people risk their lives to slip out of town," said Shadi Matar.
The UN says a total of 592,000 people live under siege in Syria -- most surrounded by government forces -- and another four million in hard-to-reach areas.
"It's too little, too late," said Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the UN, referring to Wednesday's deliveries.
- Anti-IS offensive -
Ambassador Francois Delattre of France, which currently holds the council presidency, called for airdrops to all areas in need and blamed the regime for blocking access to besieged villages and towns.
Staunch regime ally Russia said the Daraya truce would be observed until 00:01 am on Friday (2101 GMT Thursday) to allow aid deliveries.
But Russia's ambassador Vitaly Churkin suggested plans to airdrop humanitarian relief could be put on hold.
"I think we need to continue to pursue with land deliveries," he said.
In north Syria, fighters from the Kurdish-Arab alliance were 10 kilometres (six miles) outside the IS-held town of Manbij, a monitor said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces alliance had seized some 20 villages outside the town, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The US-backed SDF last week launched an offensive north of the jihadists' Syrian stronghold of Raqa city.
This week the alliance opened a new front towards Manbij, which lies on a key supply route between the IS-held town of Jarabulus on the Turkish border and Raqa.
Syria's main opposition group on Wednesday called on the UN to implement a truce in all of the country except areas under IS control during the holy month of Ramadan which begins next week.

Friday, June 3rd 2016
Rana Moussaoui with Nina Larson

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