First aid convoy reaches rebel-held Syria since quake

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The Bab al-Hawa crossing is the only way UN aid can reach civilians directly in rebel-held Syria. (AP pic)

BAB AL-HAWA BORDER CROSSING: An aid convoy reached rebel-held northwest Syria today, the first since a devastating earthquake that killed thousands, an official at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing told AFP.

The 7.8-magnitude quake early Monday has killed more than 17,000 people in Turkey and war-ravaged Syria, according to officials and medics in the two countries, flattening entire neighbourhoods.

Media officer at the crossing, Mazen Alloush said “the first UN aid convoy entered today”.

An AFP correspondent saw six trucks passing through the crossing from Turkey, carrying tents and hygiene products.

Mr Alloush noted the delivery had been expected before Monday’s quake, but said: “It could be considered an initial response from the United Nations, and it should be followed, as we were promised, with bigger convoys to help our people.”

The aid delivery mechanism from Turkey into rebel-held Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing is the only way UN assistance can reach civilians without passing through areas controlled by Syrian government forces.

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations yesterday admitted the government lacked capability and equipment, blaming more than a decade of civil war and western sanctions.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has chaired emergency meetings on the earthquake but has not addressed the nation in a speech or news conference.

While the crossing itself was not affected by the quake, the road leading to it was damaged, temporarily disrupting operations, a UN spokesman said on Tuesday.

UN special envoy Geir Pederson said the emergency response in Syria should “not be politicised” following “one of the most catastrophic earthquakes the region has seen in about a century”.

He told reporters in Geneva that the UN had been “assured today that we would be able to get through the first assistance today”.

Planes carrying aid from the UAE, Russia, Iran and other countries have landed since Monday in Syrian government-controlled airports in Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia.

Rescuers have been searching for survivors still trapped under rubble.

The White Helmets rescue group, operating in rebel-held areas of Syria, have appealed for international help in their “race against time”.

The UN’s resident Syria coordinator El-Mostafa Benlamlih told AFP yesterday that no fresh deliveries of humanitarian aid have been sent to the rebel-held northwest from within Syria in about three weeks.

He said the UN has some stocks in the area – enough to feed 100,000 people for one week.

Speaking from Damascus, Mr Benlamlih said 10.9 million people had been affected by the catastrophe and the destruction in government-held provinces “is huge”.

“But we know also that the destruction in the northwest is huge and we need to get there to assess.”

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