* Delivers tents, blankets to stranded in Azaz
* Crossline operation called a "breakthrough"
* WHO reports leishmaniasis outbreaks in Aleppo, Deir al-Zor
(adds details, WHO on disease outbreak)
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Feb 1 The U.N. refugee agency said on
Friday that it had reached an opposition-held area of north
Syria for the first time and found about 45,000 displaced people
living in appalling conditions.
A senior U.N. official voiced fears that other parts of the
country could contain similar untold stories of suffering and he
said Syria faced systematic destruction.
The Syrian government agreed to give the U.N. access to the
zone of Azaz north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, enabling a
convoy to deliver tents and blankets to needy people living in
the open in sub-zero temperatures.
"This is an area that the U.N. has not been able to
physically reach ever since the beginning of the conflict,"
Yacoub El Hillo, director of UNHCR's Middle East and North
Africa Bureau, told reporters in Geneva.
El Hillo, who was in Syria last week, added: "It is an
appalling situation in Syria today. Probably all these figures
are not capturing the true story of how Syria, the people but
also the country, are facing systematic destruction."
U.N. supplies including food have reached Azaz, "a very far
corner of the country" in the northwest from time to time, but
via partner agencies and not U.N. staff. "People have been
stranded, cut off without any systematic aid," he said.
"It is a breakthrough," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told
Azaz is located opposite Kilis camp on the Turkish side that
holds about 10,000 Syrian refugees who have crossed that border,
according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"On this (Syrian) side it is makeshift camps in appalling
conditions. So hopefully this will be the first of many, many
convoys that we will be operating," El Hillo said.
UNHCR's 8-truck convoy delivered 2,000 tents and 15,000
blankets to Azaz after taking three days to reach the area from
a civilian airport near Latakia on the Syrian coast, he said.
"They want us to continue, it could not have happened
without the Syrian government. For the planes to land near
Latakia we had to have landing permits and also for the trucks
to move," El Hillo said.
"It is indeed our aim to move the next convoy in the new few
days with larger quantities of aid to this population in that
part of the country but also many other parts of the country
where displaced families are today in disputed areas and not
only in government-controlled areas."
The government of President Bashar al-Assad, locked in a
two-year conflict, does not allow U.N. agencies to enter
rebel-held areas from across its borders but agencies including
Medecins Sans Frontieres have been active in Azazn, he said.
"It (the situation) is pushing us also to try everything
possible to deliver aid from within Syrian territory in respect
of Syria's sovereignty. The government's position is clear on
Doctors in Aleppo and Deir al-Zor have reported outbreaks of
leishmaniasis, an endemic tropical disease transmitted by
sand-flies that causes skin ulcers resembling leprosy, the World
Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
Poor waste management and lack of hygiene have fuelled its
spread, but the U.N. agency is trying to deliver medicines to
both hotspots, WHO spokesman Glenn Thomas told a news briefing.
Some 420,000 people, half of them children, need urgent
humanitarian aid in Homs province, the U.N. Children's Fund
said, reporting on an inter-agency mission to the central area.
"Almost one in three people in Homs is a displaced person
and about two-thirds of the displaced are below 18 years old,"
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said.
The mission also visited opposition-held Talbiseh, about 30
km north of Homs, the scene of heavy fighting in the past year.
"Women are taking donated blankets and turning them into
clothing, breaking up children's clothing sets so that they can
get shoes to one child, a sweater to another child and pyjamas
to another child," Mercado said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Stephen Powell)