Aid agencies call for enforcement of Syria ceasefire

WASHINGTON, March 3 (KUNA) — Three of the leading responders to the humanitarian crisis in Syria called on the Obama Administration and its allies Thursday to ensure the current “cessation of hostilities” agreement is enforced, in order to make way for aid convoys to besieged areas.
The five-year-old Syrian conflicted now stands as the worst humanitarian catastrophe since World War II, they said. “Humanitarian assistance saves and sustains life, but it is not the solution to the Syria crisis. Ultimately, the solution is political. We now have a rare opening to potentially end this conflict. Let us seize this moment and walk together,” Neal Keny-Guyer, the CEO of Mercy Corps, which serves 570,000 people a month in Syria, told reporters.
“(It is) very important that humanitarian principles are upheld” while political talks are ongoing, he said, and urged the UN to stipulate that access to humanitarian aid be made available at any time or location when civilians are concerned.
The “cessation of hostilities” deal went into effect on Feb. 27, and was welcomed by aid agencies as a step toward a full ceasefire in the country. Further negotiations by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) are set to begin on March 9. “There’s actually cautious optimism,” said Raymond Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “We’ve seen a diminishing of fatalities” from an estimated 120 deaths per day to about 20, he added. Still, he said, “We risk losing a whole generation of Syrians through this conflict.” According to the UN, 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced, and more than 4 million have crossed an international border and become refugees. Dr. Zaher Sahloul of the Syrian American Medical Society said Iran and Russia must be pressured by the US to uphold the ceasefire.
Sahloul, who returned from a trip to Syria in January where he inspected bombed-out hospitals, conceded he does not see any political will for a long-term solution in the country.
Syrians, he said, have very little hope to cling onto as matters get worse. 45 towns are known to be completely under siege, and children are starving, he said.
Only a full ceasefire would allow for aid deliveries to the most desperate areas in Idlib and Aleppo, he stressed. Aleppo in particular risks becoming “the next Srebrenica,” Sahloul said. The rhetoric of fear employed in the current US election has also been harmful to the Syrian cause, they all agreed. “It hurts our standing in the world,” Keny-Guyer said.
Sahloul noted that as long as the situation in Syria is described as “complicated” in political circles, the discussion will be deflected. “What’s complicated about people — starving?” he exclaimed. (end)