FILE - Women and children queue to receive free meals in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 2, 2017.
FILE - Women and children queue to receive free meals in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 2, 2017.

GENEVA - A senior U.N. official warns Syrian civilians will starve to death unless the United States and Russia pressure the Syrian government and armed opposition to allow humanitarian aid to reach hundreds of thousands of people trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

The special advisor to the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Jan Egeland, says people already are dying. In recent days, he says five people in the besieged Syrian cities of Medaya and Kefraya have died because the United Nations has been unable to evacuate them to receive urgent medical treatment.

He says people in the two towns as well as in the towns of Foah and Zabadani are particularly at risk of dying from starvation because they have not received food for many months. But, he says conditions in other besieged and hard-to-reach areas also are grim and getting worse.

Although the situation was not great before, he says it was better when the United States and Russia, co-chairs of the Humanitarian Access Task Force for Syria worked together in pushing for humanitarian access.

Syrians who have been evacuated from eastern Alepp
FILE - Syrians who have been evacuated from eastern Aleppo, reach out for Russian food aid in government-controlled Jibreen area in Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 30, 2016.

“We were great when there was co-leadership by the United States and Russia last year. We have not seen that of late," he said. "We have not had as much progress of late. I think that can come back. I am convinced it will come back.”

The Humanitarian Task Force was born one year ago this week because people in besieged areas in Syria were starving to death. Egeland says the aim was to have Russia, the United States and other members of influence pressure the warring parties to gain access to these areas.

He says the results have been mixed and the first two months of this year have been an enormous disappointment.

“We have, so far, this year not reached a single besieged area with land convoys, in spite of infinite number of attempts to reach the remaining 13 besieged areas with more than 600,000 civilians,” he said.

Egeland says U.N. relief convoys are lined up and ready to leave for the besieged town of al-Weir on Friday. If the mission is successful, he says it would be an important sign of good will in the days leading up to next week’s expected resumption of political negotiations on Syria.

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