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On Syria, While Even US Confirms ISIS Rebels Threaten Aid, UN Is Silent

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 21 -- With focus concentrated on chemical weapons reports near Damascus, on August 20 Inner City Press heard that the ISIS extremists had told humanitarian aid groups to get out of northern Syria or be killed.

  Who else to ask about this than the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs?

  So via Twitter at first, OCHA and its director UK Baroness Valerie Amos were asked to comment. When the Free UN Coalition for Access @FUNCA_info asked it, there was no response (while other OCHA units have responded to FUNCA, even on Syria).

So at the August 21 UN noon briefing Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: on Syria, it was reported yesterday that the ISIS group, the opposition Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, warned humanitarian aid agencies to leave north, the parts of Syria that they control because they view them as spies, and I am wondering, this was said to a number of the aid agencies; does OCHA [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] have any comment on that? Is there any response by the UN?

Deputy Spokesperson Eduardo Del Buey: Well, we’ll have to find out, Matthew. I don’t have that. We’ll have to find out for you. [Video here]

Too often such responses never come, or come late. So Inner City Press wrote to two OCHA spokespeople:

Hi. Inner City Press is informed that the ISIS / rebels have told agencies to leave northern Syria, threatening violence.

1) Is OCHA aware of this?

2) Does OCHA, ideally Baroness Amos, have a comment on it?

3) Does OCHA have a plan, or taking some action?

  It was OCHA's Amanda Pitt who answered, that "I don't have any information on the questions re northern Syria. In any case UNDSS would be the UN department to comment on security issues."

Inner City Press followed up:

Thanks for responding. On Syria, USG Amos has spoken publicly about International NGO access, restriction. So I'm asking OCHA again about restrictions by ISIS rebels, now sending you sound file (in Arabic) summarized: "Syrian activist Salim Ismail from Jarabulus says ISIS has verbally asked international humanitarian agencies in his city to leave."

UN-DSS never comments; this is a request for an OCHA comment on this aspect of INGO / aid access, and separately to know what OCHA knows of this. Thanks.

  But even this did not draw any response from OCHA. Amanda Pitt replied that

"I don't have anything from DSS on security issues/threats to UN humanitarian agencies.You would need to contact the INGOs themselves for comments on their own security... If I hear of any public comments from the NGOs or the Humanitarian Coordinator in-country, will pass on!"

  By later on August 21, a US State Department official was confirming "that ISIS warned US partners that Western aid workers would face kidnapping or death if they come into Syria."

So how can the UN's OCHA and Valerie Amos have no comment at all? Watch this site.


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