Syria May Allow Aid to Damascus Suburb (New York Times)
PARIS — The Syrian government has told Russia that it may be prepared to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to certain besieged areas in Syria, specifically a suburb of Damascus where 160,000 people have gone without assistance for a year, American and Russian diplomats said on Monday.
With an international peace conference on Syria fast approaching, diplomats here have been discussing a number of steps that might be taken to alleviate the suffering in the country and set a positive tone for the meeting, which is to begin on Jan. 22 in Switzerland.
The possible measures include prisoner exchanges between the Syrian government and rebel fighters, stopping the Syrian government’s bombardment of Aleppo and opening up aid corridors to besieged towns.
Given the wide gulf between President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents, and the similarly stark differences between Russia and the United States, such “confidence building” measures may emerge as the only tangible outcome from the conference in the near term. Even so, such measures are not yet assured.
The Syrian government has used the denial of food to try to subjugate its opponents.
But Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, told Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday that he had spoken to the Assad government, which indicated that it would support humanitarian access in certain areas. Russia has been a major supporter of Mr. Assad.
“The regime may be prepared to open up a number of areas, specifically East Ghouta,” Mr. Kerry told reporters after a meeting with Mr. Lavrov. “It may be possible for convoys now to be able to access. The proof will be in the pudding.”
Mr. Kerry also said that he had been assured by the Syrian opposition that it would be willing to undertake prisoner exchanges and would observe a cease-fire in Aleppo. Mr. Lavrov told Mr. Kerry that it was possible that the Assad government would agree to such measures as well.
“We talked today about the possibility of trying to encourage a cease-fire, maybe a localized cease-fire beginning with Aleppo,” Mr. Kerry said, referring to his meeting with Mr. Lavrov. “We also discussed the possibility of prisoner exchanges.”
In his comments to reporters, Mr. Lavrov confirmed that aid corridors had been discussed, but stressed that rebel fighters would need to abide by them as well.
“When we talk about the need for a cease-fire, to unblock as many settlements as possible to provide humanitarian access, all those factors are taken into account,” he said. “We do not want a cease-fire which would be used by terrorist groups, because that would be against the interests of everyone.”
But there was no agreement among the United States, Russia and the United Nations on another issue pertaining to the peace conference: whether Iran should attend.
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