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UN says Russian aid plan for Syria’s Aleppo needs improving

UN mediator for Syria de Mistura gestures during a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva

Russia needs to improve its plans to help 300,000 civilians besieged in the Syrian city of Aleppo and should consider letting the United Nations take over parts of the aid operation, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Friday.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Alexei Borodavkin, said Moscow would “carefully study” Mistura’s comments and take them into account, RIA news agency reported, but he stopped short of promising to comply with them.

Russia entered Syria’s civil war in September last year, backing its ally President Bashar al-Assad against rebels on a range of battlefields, including the divided northern city of Aleppo.

Western powers and aid groups have regularly accused Moscow of targeting moderate militias and killing civilians. But Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Thursday it would launch a large-scale humanitarian operation with Syria’s government to open up corridors for people to leave the city.

De Mistura told reporters Russia had so far only sketched out its aid plan. “There is urgent need for improvement … My understanding is the Russians are open for major improvements,” he said.

The plan needed to include regular pauses in the fighting to get people out and aid in, said De Mistura.

“The second suggestion is to actually leave the corridors, which are being established at their initiative, to us,” he added.

“The UN and the humanitarian partners … have experience. That’s our job. Bringing humanitarian assistance and supplies to civilians, wherever the happen to be, is exactly why the UN is there.”

Syria’s army, which has been backed by Russian air strikes, said on Wednesday it had cut off all supply routes into eastern Aleppo and the government air-dropped leaflets there, asking residents to cooperate with the army and calling on fighters to surrender.

Early in his tenure as Syrian peacebroker, de Mistura tried and failed to foster a local ceasefire in Aleppo in hope of turning it into a nationwide truce.

He suggested on Friday that if done right, a humanitarian plan for Aleppo could still help restore confidence in the wider peace process.

“Aleppo is becoming, as it always was, an iconic place which can make the world believe there is a human political solution in Syria,” he said.

Once Syria’s largest city, Aleppo has been divided between rebel-controlled and government-held sectors all through the civil war. Taking full control of the city would be a significant victory for Assad.

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