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UN Ready for Syria Aid Airdrops, Awaits OK From Damascus

Men inspect damage after an airstrike on Aleppo's rebel held al-Hallak neighborhood, Syria June 2, 2016.
Men inspect damage after an airstrike on Aleppo's rebel held al-Hallak neighborhood, Syria June 2, 2016.

The United Nations says it is ready to go ahead with airdrops of food, medicine and other assistance to areas of Syria that have a critical need for help, but is awaiting the Damascus government's permission before beginning the humanitarian effort.

The World Food Program (WFP), a U.N. agency, said it is seeking Syria's approval for flights that would deliver supplies to 19 "besieged areas” of the war-torn country. Either helicopters or planes would be used for the airdrops, although land access would be feasible in some areas if Syria approves, WFP said.

The plan to deliver aid under U.N. auspices was put in motion by the International Syria Support Group of mostly regional and world powers, led by the U.S. and Russia.

A U.N. official in London told VOA the world body's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is awaiting clarification from the Syrian government before the airdrops begin. A regional OCHA office previously submitted a clearance request directly to Syrian authorities, the official added.

In 15 of the besieged areas WFP hopes to reach, helicopter operations would be the only viable option if land access is not granted, the agency said.

High-altitude airdrops may be possible in two encircled villages - Fouah and Kfraya - WFP said, and these would augment high-altitude airdrops already begun to the northeastern city of Deir Ezzor.

A key adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected the need for urgent humanitarian aid Thursday in remarks broadcast to an American audience, but she said the Syrian government and U.N. officials have been discussing the issue. "Nobody is starving," said Bouthaina Shaaban.

Shabaan, considered a member of Assad’s inner circle, denounced the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for their support for Syrian opposition groups, and claimed thousands of "terrorists" have infiltrated Syria with Western support.

She also ridiculed Western aid programs, saying the Syrian “have never been used to eat tinned food and macaroni.”

Shabaan spoke from Syria by Skype Thursday to a group in Washington.

A U.S. State Department official dismissed Shaaban as “a propaganda mouthpiece for the Assad regime trying in vain to mask the suppression of the Syrian people and the regime's brutality.”

“The world has not been fooled by her lies,” the official said.