World Food Program unable to help starving Syrians


BEIRUT — The World Food Program said Tuesday that Syria’s civil war has blocked the U.N. agency from delivering aid to at least 1 million people who are in desperate need of help.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the U.N. agency’s local partner on the ground, has been stretched to capacity and the violence between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and the armed opposition has prevented aid workers from reaching some needy Syrians, said Abeer Etefa, an agency spokeswoman.

Truck drivers have been reluctant to transport food into conflict areas, and World Food Program staff members have had to ride in armored vehicles to monitor food distribution in some areas, Etefa said.

She said the U.N. agency also has had difficulty accessing its main warehouse in Damascus, the capital.

“There are serious bread and fuel shortages across the country, with large numbers of Syrians who are displaced and seeking shelter,” she said. “We are already helping 1.5 people million in Syria, but we estimate that 1 million are still in need of food assistance.”

Damascus and surrounding areas have seen intense fighting. Airstrikes have targeted rebel-held areas, and antigovernment fighters have carried out assassinations and set off bombs in the city.

Conditions have forced the World Food Program to find alternate access points into Syria, including sending food by truck from Lebanon instead of relying on the main harbor in Tartous. Shipments to the port were cut off after a shipping company refused to deliver there, but have since resumed.

An estimated 597,240 Syrian refugees who have fled the violence are facing harsh winter weather, many equipped with only flimsy canvas tents and insufficient clothing.

In northern Jordan, a riot broke out Tuesday over bread shortages at the Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border, an aid worker said. No more information was immediately available. Zaatari has been hit hard by a torrential downpour over the last two days, making some parts of the camp uninhabitable. Twenty-four families were moved to prefabricated huts because of mud and pools of water, according to Mohammad Askar, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency.

“The problem is that there are only 2,500 of these prefabricated huts from Saudi Arabia. This is not enough to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance,” Askar said.

Also Tuesday, the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus was shelled and saw fighting between Syrian rebels and pro-government supporters. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based nongovernmental organization, said four people in the camp were killed by shelling and a fifth by a sniper.

Syria’s 21-month-old civil war has polarized Yarmouk’s Palestinians, splitting them between armed pro- and anti- Assad factions. In December, the camp was shelled as pro-rebel fighters tried to take it over and clashed with Assad’s supporters.

Fourteen Palestinian factions issued a statement calling for calm and urging fighters to withdraw from the camp “in order not to bear the responsibility of the continuing displacement of (Yarmouk’s) residents,” according to The Associated Press.