Aid Access Granted by Damascus, Not Approved by Opposition – WHO

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday. The WHO has pledged $43 million to support earthquake response in Syria and Turkey, Tedros said during his visit to Damascus.

The amount will increase as the magnitude of the disaster becomes clearer, he added. Already, the WHO claims to have distributed 110 tons of medical supplies throughout Syria.

The WHO director also appealed to the Syrian government to open more border crossing and allow more humanitarian aid into the country, particularly to opposition-held areas.

Tedros said al-Assad “indicated he was open to considering additional cross-border access points for this emergency,” during their meeting. A UN spokesperson said they hope to open two more border crossings for aid.

The Syrian government has given the UN convoys blanket approval to access opposition-held areas from its territory. “We can move anytime now through the coastline to the northwest,” Tedros said, “based on the blanket permit, we have already permission from this side. We’re waiting now to hear from the other side. As soon as we get that we will cross to the northwest.” According to the UN, aid is being held up by “approval issues” with one opposition group.

Reuters reports that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front), which control most of the Idlib region in northwest Syria, have rejected aid delivered from Syrian government-held territory. “We won’t allow the regime to take advantage of the situation to show they are helping,” an unnamed HTS source told Reuters.

The HTS-controlled Idlib is among the worst-hit regions by the Feb. 6 earthquake. Lack of earth-moving equipment and a shortage of fuel have severely hampered rescue efforts. So far, only a pre-planned UN aid delivery has reached the region. According to Reuters, the HTS will only accept aid delivered from Turkey. “We’re on stand-by actually,” Tedros told journalists on Sunday.

Aid sent by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) has similarly been held up at a checkpoint of the Turkish-backed opposition, otherwise known as the Syrian National Army (SNA), since Feb. 8.

Over 33.000 people were killed in Syria and Turkey by the earthquake of Feb. 6. Around 3.700 of those victims were killed in Syria, most in the Idlib region. Survivors have struggled to find shelter amid freezing temperatures, fuel shortages, and a lack of aid. Hundreds of buildings collapsed or have been damaged as a result of the quake, leaving many thousands of people homeless.

Geir Pedersen, the UN’s Special Envoy to Syria, asked all parties not to politicize life-saving humanitarian aid during a pre-planned visit to Damascus on Sunday.  

Reporting by Sasha Hoffman