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UN aid to Syria falls into hands of Assad forces: Activists

The UN confirms nearly half of the 21-tonne aid drop into besieged areas of Deir Ezzor is now unaccounted for
Deir Ezzor has been under siege from Islamic State for more than a year, with aid for its 200,000 people only reaching the city by air drop, leaving many hungry (AFP)

Nearly half of the humanitarian supplies air dropped into besieged areas of Deir Ezzor in Syria on Wednesday are unaccounted for, the UN confirmed on Thursday.

The confirmation came after local activists said much of the aid fell directly into the hands of President Assad’s military forces.

In a first for the years-long war, a plane from the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) on Wednesday dropped 21 pallets of humanitarian aid over the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, which is besieged by Islamic State (IS) fighters on one side and forces supporting Assad on the other.

Despite early reports that the drop of staple items like vegetable oil, lentils, rice and salt was successful, the agency later said that all the pallets it dropped were either damaged, went off target or were unaccounted for.

"High-altitude drops are extremely challenging to carry out and take more than one trial to develop full accuracy," the WFP said in a statement.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the agency said that of the 21 one-tonne pallets, 10 were unaccounted for, seven landed in an uncontrolled area full of land mines and four were badly damaged when their parachutes failed to open.

"This plane had to fly at a high altitude to avoid rockets, missiles and gunfire," the spokesman added.

Local monitor Equality Group for Life in Deir Ezzor said in a statement on Wednesday that the aid that did make it to the ground intact fell in areas that could be reached without help from the Syrian army.

Omar Abu Lila, a journalist originally from Deir Ezzor who now operates the news website Deir Ezzor 24 from Germany, told Middle East Eye that none of the aid has yet been distributed, quoting a correspondent in the government-controlled district of Joura.

“The aid has been transported to warehouses controlled by Assad’s forces,” Lila told MEE by email on Thursday.

“None of the UN-dropped aid has been distributed yet – it is controlled by Assad’s forces and families in the besieged areas have no choice but to wait until the regime decides to distribute it.”

Some 200,000 people live in districts of the city controlled by forces supportive of Assad, whose military campaign in the area is being backed up by Russian air strikes.