Senior United Nations officials acknowledge that efforts to resume deadlocked Syrian peace talks and gain humanitarian access to besieged areas in that war-torn country remain unsuccessful, as fighting continues to escalate with no let up in sight.
Senior U.S. and Russian military, security, and diplomatic experts are meeting in Geneva to try to finalize a cessation of hostilities agreement, which would make it possible for U.N.-mediated intra-Syrian peace talks to go ahead.
The meeting is a followup to last week's day-long meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, aimed at sealing a deal. U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said much hinges on the ability of experts to overcome the few remaining differences.
"We are supporting those discussions because we are very keen, as you can imagine, in ensuring that type of cessation of hostilities being renewed," he said. "Everything else is marginal comparing to that because even aid is being stopped or not reaching places because of the intensified fighting."
A stock-taking meeting by the International Syria Support Group's Humanitarian Access Task Force found that U.N. aid convoys were able to reach only three of Syria's 18 besieged areas. U.N. special adviser Jan Egeland said U.N. relief convoys are ready to go to those places, but are being prevented from doing so.
"We also were expecting today to get an answer back from the government on our request to reach 1.2 million people in September," he said. "... It is the first of September and we have not even got an answer back yet on that."
The United Nations has been asking for a 48-hour pause to allow desperately needed food supplies to reach people trapped in Aleppo.Egeland said time is running out and that the trucks have to start rolling now.
"We were informed today that there are now 4,000 food rations left," he said. "That would be enough to — is enough to put 20,000 people and the population of East Aleppo is a quarter of a million."
U.N. officials had hoped to restart the Syrian peace talks, which broke off in April, by the end of August. Officials say they now have set a new target date of September 21 for the resumption of negotiations.