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Aid convoy arrives in Syria's Afrin, ICRC says

GENEVA (Reuters) - An aid convoy carrying humanitarian supplies for 50,000 displaced people has arrived in Afrin in Syria, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday, as Turkey wages an offensive in the area.

Smoke rises from the Syria's Afrin region, as it is pictured from near the Turkish town of Hassa, on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province, Turkey January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/Files

The situation in Afrin and other areas along the Syria-Turkish border is alarming, with the majority of people living in “dire conditions”, the ICRC said in a statement.

“Only four hospitals are operating in the area. Medical staff are overwhelmed and struggling to cope with the increase in casualties,” it said, adding that some people needing medical care were reportedly trapped in certain areas of Afrin.

ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet said it was the first time this year that the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had got the approval of the warring sides to send a convoy into Afrin.

The ICRC is concerned that the fighting between Turkish forces and the Kurdish YPG militia is moving closer to a dam and water treatment facility that are vital for water supplies to people in the area, Jaquemet added.

The 29-truck convoy was carrying 430 tonnes of food, mattresses, blankets, winter clothes and hygiene kits, the statement said. Jaquement dismissed as untrue reports that the convoy had come under attack during the journey.

The United Nations has estimated 30,000 people may have been displaced in Afrin since the Turkish offensive began, but there is little information available. Jaquemet said 30 percent of the population of Afrin district was thought to be displaced, but she did not have any other figures.

“The majority are living in dire conditions and are hosted in communities and collective centres. The ongoing fighting has forced thousands more to flee. What we are doing now is to meet the most pressing needs of the most vulnerable,” she said.

Ankara launched its offensive in January against the U.S.-backed YPG militia, which it regards as a terrorist group linked to Kurdish militants who have been battling Turkish forces in southeast Turkey for more than three decades.

Commenting on the proximity of the dam and water treatment area to the fighting, Jaquement said: “Were they to be damaged it would deprive at least 200,000 people of water.”

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Gareth Jones