GENEVA – U.N. officials said Thursday they received word from Russia that it supports a 48-hour pause in fighting in and around Syria's largest city so that humanitarian aid can be delivered to its increasingly embattled population.
Jan Egeland, who heads up humanitarian aid in the office of the U.N. Syria envoy, said "We are ready" and the U.N. now awaits assurances from two rebel groups and written authorization from President Bashar Assad's government before any aid convoys can go through to Aleppo amid an upsurge in fighting that has left the city nearly surrounded by Russian-backed Syrian troops.
Egeland said Russia backs a three-point U.N. plan that is to involve separate road convoys of aid delivered both from Damascus and across the Turkish border through the critical Castello Road artery into Aleppo, and a mission to southern Aleppo to help revive a damaged electric plant that powers crucial pumping stations that supply water for 1.8 million people. The Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow declined to comment on the issue.
"We are very hopeful that it will be a very short time until we can roll," Egeland said told reporters. He said later that the U.N. ultimately wants to see weekly 48-hour pauses in the fighting in Aleppo to allow for aid deliveries.
Egeland spoke after Thursday's resumption of weekly "humanitarian task force" meetings in Geneva under the office of the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. De Mistura abruptly called off the meeting last week to protest how no road convoys had been allowed through to priority U.N.-designated "besieged" and "hard-to-reach" areas in Syria in August due to a lack of authorizations.
Since last Thursday, the Homs suburb of al-Waer has been the only town to receive U.N. aid by road, officials have said.
De Mistura declined to take reporters' questions following Thursday's meeting, saying he planned to wait until after an expected meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva this week to discuss Syria and other issues.
Over the summer, de Mistura said he hoped to resume "toward the end of August" the intra-Syria talks that he suspended in late April, after failing to make concrete progress toward his ultimate aim: political transition in Syria. He acknowledged that meetings between Lavrov and Kerry "are going to have an impact, certainly" on U.N.-led initiatives to get that political process back on track.
De Mistura's office has engaged on three main tracks — U.N.-led humanitarian aid shipments; support for a cease-fire agreed upon in February; and the political process — all of which have been struggling in recent weeks.
Associated Press writer Kate dePury in Moscow contributed to this report