December 8, 2016 / 12:43 PM / a year ago

U.N.'s Egeland says U.S. and Russia 'poles apart' on Aleppo

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States and Russia are “poles apart” in trying to agree the terms for evacuating people from besieged east Aleppo in Syria, U.N. Syria humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said on Thursday.

Five months of negotiations over aid plans have all failed and produced “nothing”, Egeland said, adding it was up to the United States and Russia to try to coordinate a deal.

As he spoke in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after talks in Hamburg with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov he was “hopeful” about reaching an agreement with Moscow over Aleppo, but added he was awaiting “certain feedback and input”.

“The whole point of having co-chairs is that they are pulling together and they haven’t been for quite some time,” Egeland told reporters after a weekly Syria humanitarian meeting of countries with influence in the war.

Opposition groups in eastern Aleppo previously gave mixed signals on how to organise evacuations, but now have dropped their conditions and are simply asking for a pause in the fighting to allow people to leave, Egeland added.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have captured the majority of east Aleppo’s territory in the past 10 days, but most of the zone’s 250,000-275,000 civilians and about 8,000 rebels are still thought to be trapped in the siege.

“Very many are now crammed together, we think, in the remaining area, which may be only 25 percent of what it was in early November,” Egeland said.

The United Nations has said it estimates about 33,000 people have been displaced in the past 10 days, including about 20,000 going into government-held areas. Egeland said Syrian authorities say they have registered 30,000 in their areas.

HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS

Russia has been pressing for rebels and their families to be evacuated to the rebel-held town of Idlib, but the rebels have said evacuees should go to northern Aleppo province.

Egeland said the local council in Idlib had informed the United Nations the town could not receive any more people because it was already too full of displaced people and there was too much fighting going on.

Russia has said it wants eastern Aleppo’s citizens to leave via four humanitarian corridors, although it will not let food go in to supply the hungry population.

Egeland said Russia had been told during the closed-door U.N. meeting that the creation of a humanitarian corridor meant a pause in the fighting.

“Russia said they will definitely be discussing with us how to organise the evacuations but they are not any more promising any pause (in fighting),” he said.

Reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones

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