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Aid Crisis In Besieged Syrian Areas 'Worst Since 2015'

Syrian staff from the International Committee of the Red Cross take part in an evacuation operation in Douma in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on December 26.

UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland has said that aid deliveries to hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside "besieged areas" in Syria have fallen to their lowest level since 2015, with not a single humanitarian convoy reaching these spots since November.

"Humanitarian diplomacy seems to be totally impotent," Egeland told reporters in Geneva following a meeting of world and regional powers in a UN humanitarian "task force" for Syria.

The UN adviser blamed the Syrian government and rebels for the situation, as well as countries that are backing them in Syria's nearly seven-year civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed since it began with a crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011.

He cited Russia and Iran, which have given President Bashar al-Assad's government crucial support throughout the conflict, as well as Turkey, which backs rebel groups.

Egeland made the comments as Russian-backed Syrian troops are pressing their offensives against rebel-held strongholds in the northwest province of Idlib and eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

Meanwhile, Turkey is pushing ahead with a cross-border military operation against the Kurdish-run Afrin enclave in northern Syria.

"The situation is screaming for a cease-fire," Egeland said about Idlib, where 1.2 million civilians are internally displaced.

He also called for a humanitarian pause in Eastern Ghouta, where he said no medical evacuations have occurred since late December and cited reports of 15,000 civilians fleeing into the northern town of Afrin.

The UN envoy criticized the warring sides and their foreign sponsors for blaming each other for the lack of humanitarian access, rather than seeking solutions.

"I am so fed up with these counterarguments that these men in office, these men in suits and uniforms have" for not allowing aid convoys to besieged areas, Egeland said.

While trapped civilians have been without aid for the past two months, humanitarian organizations have been able to help millions of people who live in other parts of Syria, he also said.

Also on February 1, France urged Russia and Iran to “make arrangements” for the bombing of rebel-held areas in Syria to cease and ensure humanitarian aid entered these spots.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von der Muhll called attacks in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta "unacceptable," saying that bombings targeting hospitals and civilians are a violation of international humanitarian law.

The statement comes a day after French President Emmanuel Macron told Ankara it would be a "real problem" if its intervention in the Afrin enclave turned into an outright "invasion."

"France cannot give us lessons on this issue," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu replied on February 1, referring to France's colonial past.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AP
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