The U.N. said Wednesday it is using newly opened land routes to expand food deliveries to areas around the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, where U.S.-backed forces are battling Islamic State group (I.S.) militants in their self-declared capital.
The new access has allowed the World Food Programme to deliver food to rural areas north of the city for the first time in three years. The U.N. agency says it is now delivering food every month to nearly 200,000 people in eight hard-to-reach locations inside Raqqa province as well as other areas in a neighboring province.
Prior to the re-opening of the road linking Aleppo in the west to Hasakeh in the east, the WFP relied on airlifts.
“Replacing airlifts with road deliveries will save an estimated US$19 million per year, as each truck on the road carries the equivalent of a planeload of food at a significantly lower cost,” said Jakob Kern, the WFP country representative in Syria.
“With these cost savings and improved access, we are now reaching more families and people returning to their homes who need our help with regular food deliveries.”
One area that is now reachable is the town of Tabqa, which was taken from I.S. by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in May. WFP said it was able this month to double the number of people it reaches, delivering monthly food rations to 25,000 people, many of whom have returned to their original homes and are now working to rebuild their lives.
The advance toward Raqqa city began last year, with the SDF fighting to clear rural parts around the city. Backed by airstrikes from the international coalition, the Syrian fighters captured the strategic town of Tabqa and a major nearby dam in May.
Also Wednesday, a human rights group said Syrian-Russian airstrikes and artillery attacks on a town in southern Syria last month killed 10 civilians in and near a school.
Human Rights Watch said one of the airstrikes hit the courtyard of a middle school in the town of Tafas in the southern province of Daraa, killing eight people, including a child. It says most of those killed were members of a family who had been displaced from another town.
It said two other civilians, including a child, were killed an hour earlier by artillery attacks near the school.
Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said Wednesday that “as long as no one is held responsible for such repeated unlawful attacks, it’s likely they will continue.”