An 11-hour daily humanitarian pause, set to last through Monday, could provide “direct response for medical evacuation and relief” for the sick and wounded trapped inside eastern Aleppo, said Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy to Syria.
The dangerous security situation, though, meant that a medical evacuation was unable to take place Thursday, as the sick and wounded could not be transported safely, according to Krista Armstrong, a Middle East spokesperson for International Committee of the Red Cross.
The cease-fire and reopening of the humanitarian corridor to east Aleppo, where 275,000 civilians remain trapped, was announced Thursday following initial reports that Russian and Syrian forces would only pause airstrikes over the city for eight hours.
“A real humanitarian pause and consent from all parties are needed, before we can proceed with such evacuations,” Armstrong wrote to Devex.
U.N. senior adviser Jan Egeland spoke to reporters at the U.N. Geneva headquarters on Thursday, saying the initially set eight-hour time period for the corridor was not sufficient to carry out necessary relief work.
“We said it is not really possible, it’s too complicated, too much can go wrong, the families need to be able to come in dignity with the wounded, we need more time. We appreciate that that has become 11 hours of no bombing, and armed opposition groups say they will enable this to happen,” said Egeland during a joint press conference, describing the relief efforts as a dangerous operation.
The relief operation will start with medical evacuations, said Egeland, noting that it is not clear if food deliveries are a possibility. There are some reports that this process could begin Friday.
On Thursday morning, ICRC teams from Damascus and the west Aleppo headquarters were poised to deliver aid to east Aleppo, which international aid groups have not been able to reach since April.
The aid workers, working with the U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, were ready to conduct a medical evacuation and deliver essential food and supply items in bulk, Armstrong says.
“Supplies are running very low right now and partners are facing difficulties to provide fresh meals every day to people there,” she said.
But there is also a critical need for work that cannot be constrained by crunched timeframes. Generators are running low, water and electricity systems are severely damaged and doctors are “completely overstretched,” Armstrong said.
There is some precedent for these types of evacuations, as the ICRC participated in the medical evacuation of four Syrian towns, including Madaya, this April. The U.N. has only reached one besieged area — Douma — this October, to deliver assistance to 35,000 people, but the operation was impaired by shelling, Egeland said.
Amy Lieberman is a reporter for Devex, based out of New York, where she covers global development around the city and out of the United Nations. She has previously worked as a freelancer, reporting on the environment, social justice issues, immigration and development. Her coverage has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Slate and The Los Angeles Times, among other outlets. She received her M.A. in politics and government from Columbia Journalism School in 2014.
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