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United Nations hesitates on delivering humanitarian aid by air to Syrians

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Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

(Read caption) Aid workers at the Damascus airport unload supplies from a Czech military airplane into a Syrian Arab Red Crescent truck on Sunday.

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The United Nations said Monday it is focusing on delivery of humanitarian aid by road to millions of Syrians in need of help in the war-torn country despite an earlier announcement that it would formally ask Damascus to allow more costly and difficult air drops to besieged areas.

The U.N. had requested access to 34 locations to help 1.1 million people in June and Syria approved 23 requests in full and six partially, while rejecting five. France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre, the current Security Council president, said Friday the U.N. would send Damascus a letter on Sunday to authorize humanitarian air drops to all the areas where access was denied.

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But Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters that the U.N. is now concentrating on continuing land-based deliveries rather than parachuting pallets of supplies to the needy or sending aid by helicopter.

"At this point the focus is on land deliveries," he said, noting that safety and logistical issues make air drops less than optimal. "If we see that we are getting the land access that we need, that's the way we will go."

Two U.N. diplomats said Monday, however, that the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Syria had sent a letter to the Syrian government on Sunday requesting authorization for air drops to four besieged areas. The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because contacts were private, said the U.N. asked for a response by June 10.

The 5-year-old civil war in Syria has killed some 250,000 people, displaced millions and left vast swaths of the country in ruins, enabling the Islamic State extremist group to take control of large areas of the country. A Russia- and U.S.-brokered truce began on Feb. 27, but fighting has continued in many areas.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report.