The Syrian government allowed aid into a rebel-held area near Damascus on Tuesday in what appeared to be a goodwill gesture after U.N.-mediated indirect peace talks got off to a rocky start in Geneva.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered 14 trucks of aid provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross to the al-Tal suburb, said Damascus-based ICRC spokesman Pawel Krzysiek. He told The Associated Press the delivery included food and hygiene kits for some 3,500 families as well as 25 metric tons of bulk food.
The Syrian opposition had demanded that aid be allowed into 18 besieged areas throughout the country and that Syrian and Russian forces halt the bombardment of rebel-held areas ahead of the talks, which officially began Monday.
But as U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura has shuttled between the government and opposition delegations in Geneva, Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes have captured three villages north of the city of Aleppo. The military offensive and the continuing blockade of rebel areas has infuriated the opposition and thrown the future of the talks into question.
Opposition official Ahmad Ramadan dismissed the aid shipment to al-Tal as an empty gesture, saying “the only way” to save the negotiations is for “the United Nations and the United States to force an end to bombardment and the targeting of civilians.”
The delivery to al-Tal came a day after the Syrian government approved a U.N. request for new aid deliveries to the besieged towns of Madaya, Foua and Kfarya, where hundreds of civilians are facing severe malnutrition and some have starved to death. It was not immediately clear why food was sent to al-Tal and not the other areas.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said al-Tal has been under siege by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces for months.
De Mistura kicked off what he called a second day of peace talks by hosting a government delegation for the second time since Friday. He said he would meet with the main opposition group later in the day.
But opposition figures said they had no scheduled meeting with de Mistura on Tuesday, and condemned what one member called the “crazy escalation” by Syrian and Russian forces around Aleppo.
The talks are aimed at ending a war that has killed 250,000 people, displaced millions and left much of the country in ruins. The last round of talks broke down in 2014, and expectations are low.