Syria: U.N.-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan is urging Syria’s government to accept U.N. conditions for expanding the distribution of humanitarian aid to roughly 1 million Syrians in need of assistance, the United Nations said today.

Meanwhile, three vehicles belonging to a convoy of UN observers in Syria were damaged in a bomb blast near the city of Hama today, according to a UN spokesperson. “Three UN vehicles were damaged, no UN personnel were injured,” Mr. Fawzi said in response to questions. “The Mission has sent a patrol team to the area to extract the UN military observers.”

Middle East peace process:
The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, has welcomed the agreement reached to end the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody.  Under the agreement, which was signed on Monday following mediation by Egypt and Jordan, Israel will reportedly end solitary confinement for all prisoners and allow around 400 prisoners from Gaza to receive family visits. It agreed to discuss improvements in prison conditions, such as access to televisions and telephone calls.

Sudan/S. Sudan:
An operation to fly back to their country an estimated 12,000 citizens of South Sudan stranded at a riverside town in neighbouring Sudan has begun, a senior United Nations official said today, adding that the returnees are being provided with humanitarian assistance on arrival back home. Once in Juba, returnees are being offered temporary accommodation until they are able to proceed to their final places of settlement.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is calling for more than $500 million in emergency aid for the people of South Sudan. Late last year the UN appealed for nearly $800 million to fund humanitarian operations in South Sudan but it received about a third of that amount.

Somalia is entering its “most critical stage” as the end of its transitional governing period approaches in August, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Augustine P. Mahiga, told the Security Council today, calling for the international community to boost their efforts to help the east African country through its peace and national reconciliation process. Mr. Mahiga noted that there are a number of challenges for the roadmap’s implementation to be completed. In particular, he pointed to a lack of time and unavailability of resources as two factors that could have a negative effect in the next months.

In a press statement following the briefing, Security Council members welcomed the progress made so far in the implementation of the roadmap and reaffirmed their commitment to support the process.

Africa Human Development Report:
Sub-Saharan Africa cannot sustain its present economic growth unless it eliminates the hunger that is affecting almost a quarter of its people, according to a new UN report launched today, which calls for new approaches to empower local communities to ensure food security in the region.

UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report 2012: Towards a Food Secure Future stresses that action on agriculture alone will not be enough to eliminate hunger, and new approaches will have to include the improvement of health services and agricultural infrastructure, as well as giving a greater voice to the poor through strengthened local governments and civil society groups.