The Latest: UN Syria aid task force warns of loss of impetus


DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Latest on Syria’s conflict (all times local):

3.30 p.m.

A supervisor of U.N. aid says efforts to get humanitarian help to besieged areas in Syria risk losing momentum several weeks into a partial cease-fire.

Jan Egeland, who is leading a task force on humanitarian aid, said that “we are afraid now to lose some of the momentum that we got after the Munich meeting” in February, which set off a drive for better aid access and for the truce.

Egeland said in Geneva Thursday that officials still haven’t received the green light to go to three of the 18 besieged areas.

He also complained of “a number of administrative problems, security issues” in getting aid to some other areas and said surgical equipment is still being taking off convoys, medical personnel not allowed in and medical evacuations have been barred.

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2.45 p.m.

Syrian President Bashar Assad says he is ready to hold a snap presidential election if the people call for it.

He also says direct elections in which all Syrians could participate would be better than the president being elected by parliament, so that the elections can be “as free as possible from the influence of various political forces.”

Assad spoke in an interview with Russia’s state news agency Sputnik, excerpts of which were being released over several days. The latest comments were posted Thursday.

Assad has also proposed a national unity government and rejected a key opposition demand for a transitional ruling body with full powers, which major powers agreed on at a Geneva conference in June 2012.

U.S. officials say Assad has lost his legitimacy to govern.

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2.15 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists say Syrian army airstrikes that hit near a school and hospital east of Damascus have killed more than 10 people.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the casualties were caused by a series of airstrikes that struck the rebel-held town of Deir al-Asafir Thursday. The Local Coordination Committees, another opposition activist group, put the death toll from the airstrikes at 17.

The Britain-based Observatory says around 2,700 families live in Deir al-Asafir. Government troops have been trying to encircle the town for weeks.

The government says al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, operates in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. The group is excluded from a cease-fire that has been in place in Syria for a month. The opposition says the government is targeting civilians.

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1.30 p.m.

Syria’s prime minister says the country’s economy is being subjected to a “fierce war,” adding that his government is working to stop the fall of local currency.

Wael al-Halqi’s comments on Thursday came as the Syrian pound crashed against foreign currencies, recently reaching its lowest level in five years at 530 pounds to the U.S. dollar.

Al-Halqi, who spoke during a parliamentary session, did now say what the government will do.

When Syria’s conflict began in March 2011, the exchange rate was 47 pounds to the dollar.

On Tuesday, state media reported that several people were detained with large amounts of cash while dealing in the black market.

The Syrian pound’s latest crash began when Russia announced the withdrawal of the bulk of its forces from Syria.