Syria holding up food aid, U.N. asks for airlift approval

GENEVA/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations is still waiting for Syrian government agreement for an aid convoy to enter the besieged town of Daraya and has requested approval to airlift food into four locations if land routes are unavailable, U.N. officials said on Tuesday. The U.N. has said malnourished children in Daraya will die without outside help, a claim a top adviser to President Bashar al-Assad denied last week. "The blockage of aid is a political issue," U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told a regular U.N. briefing in Geneva. "Daraya is 12 km (7.5 miles) from Damascus, so it can be done but we need the political go-ahead from the government." Daraya is one of four locations for which the U.N. presented the Syrian foreign ministry on Sunday a backup plan to airlift food if land access is not approved, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York. It is awaiting approval. "The written request included a plan for airlifts – not airdrops - as a last resort, to Daraya, Douma and Mouadamiya in rural Damascus Governorate, and Al Waer in Homs Governorate," Dujarric said. So far Damascus has only authorized the delivery of medical assistance, school supplies and children's milk to Douma, Daraya and Mouadamiya during June, not food. Al Waer was not among the approved areas for June. The Syrian government noted in a statement that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had delivered seven trucks of medical supplies, food and children's milk to the area on June 1. Last week Syria's government, under pressure from its ally Russia and other countries belonging to the International Syria Support Group overseeing the peace process, allowed the first U.N. aid convoy into Daraya since late 2012. It brought baby milk and medical supplies to support an estimated 4,000 civilians, just in time for Syria to meet a Thursday deadline to improve aid access or face having aid deliveries imposed by air drops. But the convoy took no food to Daraya. U.N. officials had hoped food would arrive in a second convoy on Friday, but that was delayed with no government approval. Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the government had later given partial approval for the food convoy. "That is not good enough," he said. "We are reverting to the government." Syria's opposition says the government approved the first convoy in a cynical ploy to alleviate international pressure. Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Assad, said last week that "nobody is starving in Daraya", which was "producing peas and beans and food and wild berries that is enough for the entire Syria". (Reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehayn in Geneva and Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Andrew Hay)