WFP expands food aid deliveries in Syria's Raqa
DAMASCUS - The UN's World Food Programme announced Wednesday it has resumed aid deliveries in parts of Syria's Raqa province for the first time in three years using a newly-opened land route.
The deliveries come as thousands of civilians are being displaced by a US-backed campaign to oust the Islamic State jihadist group from the provincial capital of the same name in northern Syria.
Aid provision to the wider province of Raqa is complicated by the region's remote location and by the myriad warring factions that control access routes to it.
Until last month, the World Food Programme was relying on flying aid from Damascus to the neighbouring province of Hasakeh and then delivering it to surrounding areas.
The land route instead travels from Aleppo province to the west of Raqa and has "allowed access for the first time in three years to Al-Mansura and other rural areas north of Raqa city", the WFP said.
Al-Mansura is a town west of Raqa city and was recaptured from IS in June.
"WFP is now delivering food every month to nearly 200,000 people, displaced in eight hard-to-reach locations inside Raqa governorate as well as other areas in neighbouring governorates," the UN agency said.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, have been battling since November 2016 to oust IS from Raqa province.
They entered Raqa city for the first time in June after spending months working to encircle it. SDF forces now control nearly 35 percent of the one-time IS bastion.
IS is also under pressure elsewhere in Syria and in neighbouring Iraq, where it lost its largest stronghold of Mosul this week.