October 3, 2016 / 10:51 AM / a year ago

EU hopes Aleppo aid plan can succeed where others failed

Men ride motorcycles past damaged buildings in al-Rai town, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria October 2, 2016.Khalil Ashawi

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union hopes its new push to bring humanitarian aid to besieged, rebel-held eastern Aleppo might succeed where previous efforts have failed because the bloc has little military stake in the war, officials said.

The EU said on Sunday it had basic aid ready in the government-held part of Aleppo and was ready to send it across the conflict line, as well as carry out medical evacuations.

But a lull in fighting would be needed for the convoy to get in. Russia, which has given heavy military support to the Syrian government, and the United States, which backs some rebel groups, have repeatedly failed to broker a lasting truce.

"Given the recent (Syrian government) offensive in Aleppo there is a significant risk of civilian casualties increasing," an EU source said. "This is a purely humanitarian initiative meant to allow the humanitarian organisations to do their job.

"In the absence of a global agreement on a cessation of hostilities we cannot afford to wait any longer to address the growing needs of civilians trapped by the conflict."

Brussels said its proposal was put forward in consultation with the United Nations, which has previously accused the Syrian government of obstructing aid deliveries.

In September an aid convoy west of Aleppo was attacked by aircraft, killing around 20 people.

Brussels believes it should play a bigger role in political negotiations about Syria's future as it would be ready to contribute major funds to help rebuild the country when the conflict ends. The war has also triggered an influx of refugees to the bloc.

CONTACTS WITH IRAN AND RUSSIA

A spokeswoman for the EU's executive arm said on Monday its top diplomat Federica Mogherini had discussed the aid plan with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday and would talk to Russia's Sergei Lavrov later on Monday.

Another EU official expressed hope the EU could get better results from diplomacy than the United States as tensions between Brussels and Syria and its allies Iran and Russia were not as high.

Being purely humanitarian and not part of broader truce or political negotiations, aid deliveries were less likely to be taken hostage by rival sides, the person said.

Syria's mainstream political opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, welcomed the EU proposal and said it was ready to help make it happen.

But it called on the EU to go beyond that and ensure justice for "indiscriminate daily bombardment by the forces of the (Syrian) regime and its allies".

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Andrew Roche

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