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Geneva (AFP) - Syria has given approval for humanitarian convoys to reach all of the country's 19 besieged areas by the end of the month, the UN said Thursday, while warning that "approval... does not mean delivery".
"We were informed by our team in Damascus that basically there has been a permission, an approval... by the government of Syria for all 19 besieged areas," the United Nations envoy to the war-racked country, Staffan de Mistura, told reporters.
He stressed that Syria has given such approvals in the past before ultimately blocking convoys from distributing life-saving supplies.
He made the comments after the weekly meeting of the Syria humanitarian taskforce, co-chaired by the United States and Russia, which has for months been trying to boost aid supplies to millions of Syrians in need.
That taskforce has faced pressure, including from France and Britain, to start air-dropping aid into besieged areas, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military continuing to block road convoys.
De Mistura insisted there had been no "backtracking" on air drops and that they "are still an option."
He indicated that the pressure placed on Damascus by the prospect of air drops had led to the road convoy approvals and voiced hope that a surge of aid deliveries in the coming weeks would make dangerous and costly air drops unnecessary.
"The proof is in facts, concrete facts, and that means deliveries," he said.
The UN envoy added that he wanted to see clear movement on those deliveries "in the next few hours", including to Daraya which has been under siege by government troops since late 2012.
De Mistura also said there appeared to be some progress on the release of detainees held by the regime, but provided few details.
"We did get the information today from one main source, but we would like to have more information, that some substantial number of (rebel) fighters appear to have been released," de Mistura said.
"We are waiting for those details," he told reporters.
The Syrian opposition has pressed the detainee question during peace talks, insisting those held by the government needed to be released in order for negotiations to move forward.
Reiterating what he told the UN Security Council last month, de Mistura said "the time is not yet mature" for talks to resume.
The last round of UN-brokered talks ended in April without a breakthrough and with the government and opposition still deadlocked on the crucial question of Assad's fate.
De Mistura said "technical talks" would continue in the coming weeks in various locations, including Damascus and Riyadh, where the main opposition High Negotiations Committee is based.
Before official talks can resume, there needs to be clear progress on a plan to form a new government as well as improved humanitarian access, the UN envoy said.