(Updates with UN statement)
By Suadad al-Salhy
BAGHDAD Dec 15 The United Nations sent its
first delivery of humanitarian aid by air to Syria from Iraq on
Sunday and said it plans to deliver more food and winter
supplies to the mainly Kurdish northeast in the next 12 days.
The first cargo plane carrying food took off from Arbil in
Iraq's northern Kurdistan region and made a one-hour flight to
Hassakeh governorate in Syria, which has had no significant aid
deliveries since May.
The U.N. said two planes are contracted to do 23 rotations
over the next 10 days. The aid includes 10 planeloads of food,
enough to feed more than 6,000 Syrian families for the rest of
December, as they endure the third winter of the conflict, which
began in March 2011.
Using a charted Iluyshin IL-76, the U.N. refugee agency
UNHCR also plans to send 300 tonnes of relief items such as
blankets, sleeping mats and kitchen sets to support 60,000
displaced people. A planeload from UNICEF contains health kits,
water and sanitation supplies.
"We have been particularly worried about the situation of
children and families in the northern parts of Syria because of
the insecurity and limited access," said Maria Calivis, UNICEF
Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"These airlifts will help ensure they have access to safe
water and health care through the tough winter months ahead."
The airlifts were delayed from last week because of a storm
which swept across Syria and Lebanon, bringing with it high
winds and freezing temperatures. Cold, dry winds whipped the
Tarmac at Arbil airport before takeoff.
"This wave of extreme cold led to deteriorating conditions
for people in the city of Qamishli and other places in Syria,"
Iyad Nuaman, World Food Programme regional coordinator, told
Reuters by telephone from Arbil.
The Syrian and Iraqi governments both authorised the
airlift, the U.N. statement said.
U.N. agencies have ferried limited aid supplies into Syria
from Iraq and Lebanon, but not via Turkey because of objections
from President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Syria gave permission several weeks ago for the cross-border
U.N. operation, which had initially envisaged truck convoys,
which would have been cheaper.
However, the U.N. found negotiating with different factions
on the ground in Syria had become increasingly complicated and
resorted to the direct airlift instead.
The bad weather has increased the needs of internally
displaced Syrians and supplies in warehouses are running low,
said Eliana Naba'a, spokeswoman for the U.N's Iraq mission.
"We are launching this airlift from Iraq because it's much
easier compared to other countries in the region," she said,
noting the short flight time.
The U.N. said last week that the number of vulnerable people
in the Hassakeh province is estimated at 50,000-60,000 and that
the population has been out of reach for a long time.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict in
Syria, which began with peaceful protests against Assad and has
descended into civil war.
The conflict has stoked sectarian tensions across the Middle
East and triggered a humanitarian crisis. The U.N.'s refugee
agency says about 6.5 million people have fled their homes
within Syria and 2.3 million sought refuge abroad.
(Additional reporting by Reuters Television and Tom Miles in
Geneva, Writing by Sylvia Westall and Tom Miles; Editing by
Janet Lawrence and Sonya Hepinstall)