Earthquake knocks out Syrian aid lifeline, UN says

Aftermath of an earthquake in Aleppo
People walk past rubble of damaged buildings, in the aftermath of the earthquake, in Aleppo, Syria February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi

BEIRUT, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Aid flows from Turkey to northwest Syria have temporarily stopped due to the fallout of a devastating earthquake, a U.N. spokesperson said on Tuesday, leaving aid workers grappling with the problem of how to help people in a country fractured by war.

The cross-border aid operation overseen by the United Nations since 2014 has been crucial to Syrians who fled President Bashar al-Assad's rule during the conflict, bypassing territory he controls.

There was no clear picture of when the aid - upon which some 4 million people depend - would resume, Madevi Sun-Suon, spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), told Reuters.

"Some roads are broken, some are inaccessible. There are logistical issues that need to be worked through," she said.

"We are exploring all avenues to reach people in need," she said.

These included delivering aid from within Syria via government-held territory - a process involving crossing frontlines through which aid has seldom passed during the war.

Damascus has long opposed the humanitarian operation that has delivered aid into Syria from Turkey, saying assistance should be delivered via Damascus.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday and said he asked for U.N. help. But he told reporters any assistance must be done in coordination with the government and delivered from within Syria, not across the Turkish border.

Many Syrians sheltering in the rebel-held northwest fear this would once again put their fate in Assad's hands.

The quake that struck in the early hours of Monday has killed more than 5,000 people in Syria and Turkey.

Some 900 died in northwestern Syria, with many more believed to be trapped under the rubble in a region where people were already heavily dependent on aid before the disaster.

A similar number of people have been killed in government-held areas, according to the government.

Aid already positioned in the northwest will likely be rapidly depleted, aid officials said.

"We have heard there are some supplies in the system for the next 3 - 5 days, however our concern is that these will be exhausted rapidly," Kieren Barnes, Mercy Corps Syria country director, told Reuters.

The Damascus-based Syrian Red Crescent said on Tuesday it was ready to deliver aid across Syria, including to opposition areas.

Reporting by Timour Azhari and Maya Gebeily; Writing by Timour Azhari and Tom Perry; Additional reporting by by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Alison Williams and Bernadette Baum

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