UN to begin humanitarian airlift in Northern Syria

The relief effort hopes to reach thousands of war-affected Syrians particularly vulnerable to the onset of winter

A Syrian-Kurdish refugee rests outside a tent provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the Quru Gusik refugee camp, near Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on Oct 10, 2013.

The United Nations' first relief airlift to Syria from Iraq will deliver food and winter supplies to the mostly Kurdish northeast this week with the permission of both governments, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said Tuesday.

Beginning on Thursday, commercial cargo planes will deliver aid from Erbil in northern Iraq to Hassakeh. Up to 12 flights are scheduled through Sunday, said Amin Awad, director of the UNHCR's Middle East and North Africa Bureau.

U.N. agencies have transported limited aid supplies into Syria from Iraq and Lebanon, but not via Turkey because of objections from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government based on Turkey's opposition to the Assad government.

Syria gave permission about two weeks ago for the cross-border U.N. operation, which was initially envisaged as truck convoys traveling via the Yarubiya border crossing, a cheaper option, Awad said.

"As the situation was very complicated, negotiating with many factions, we shifted to an airlift," said Awad, noting that one main Kurdish group in the area was pro-Syrian government and the other pro-Turkish.

The cargo will also include blankets, kitchen equipment, plastic tarps for shelter and sleeping mats, a UNHCR spokesman said.

"The number of vulnerable people in Hassakeh is estimated at 50,000-60,000 but we are still doing assessments. Hassakeh has been out of reach for a long time," said Awad.

Awad said the U.N. was still "lining up airlines that are willing to fly into that part of the country."

Well over 100,000 people have been killed in the nearly three-year old civil war in Syria, which began with peaceful protests against Assad in March 2011. The U.N. says about 6.5 million people have fled their homes within Syria and 2.3 million have sought refuge abroad.

Last month, the U.N. said an estimated 9.3 million Syrians, or about 40 percent of the country's population, was in need of aid, while the UNHCR said that the conflict had fallen particuarly hard on children, who represent over half of the Syrian refugee population.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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