WHO chief visits Syria for first time since deadly earthquake: report

An AFP correspondent said the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, visited rebel-held areas in northwestern Syria on Wednesday devastated by last month’s earthquake. Tedros, the highest UN official to visit rebel-held areas of Syria since the February 6 earthquake, had traveled to government-controlled areas of Aleppo and Damascus the week of the disaster.

The correspondent said he entered Syria on Wednesday from neighboring Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa crossing and visited several hospitals and shelters for the displaced.

Following the quake, activists and emergency teams in the rebel-held northwest condemned the UN’s slow response, comparing it to planes of humanitarian aid sent to government-controlled airports.

Read also: Egypt’s foreign minister to visit Turkey, Syria for ‘solidarity’ for first time in decade

A total of 258 aircraft carrying aid have reached regime-controlled areas, of which 129 are from the UAE.

UN relief chief Martin Griffiths admitted on 12 February that the body had “failed people in northwestern Syria so far”.

Since then, the United Nations has launched an appeal for $397 million to help earthquake victims in Syria.

The UN says a total of 420 trucks carrying UN aid have entered the rebel-held pocket since the tragedy.

More than four million people live in areas outside government control in Syria’s north and northwest, 90 percent of whom depend on aid to survive.

On 9 February, three days after the earthquake, the first UN aid convoy arrived in the area and carried tents and other relief for the 5,000 people expected before the earthquake.

The United Nations largely transports relief into Syria’s northwest through neighboring Turkey via the Bab al-Hawa crossing – the only way for aid to enter without permission from Damascus.

The crossing is located in the Idlib region, where UN officials rarely visit and is controlled by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

The WHO chief said on 12 February that Assad had expressed openness to crossing more borders to deliver aid to earthquake victims in the rebel-held northwest.

On 13 February, the UN said that Damascus had allowed it to use two other crossings – Bab al-Salamah and al-Rai – in areas outside its control for three months.

Read also: Turkey-Syria earthquake: women among most victims

An AFP correspondent said a new aid convoy entered through Bab al-Salamah on Wednesday.

The first UN delegation to visit rebel-held northwestern Syria after the earthquake arrived from Turkey on 14 February.

It involved David Carden, deputy regional humanitarian coordinator, and Sanjana Qazi, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Turkey, and was largely an assessment mission.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck war-torn Syria and Turkey, killing more than 50,000 people in both countries.

The Syrian government said 1,414 people were killed in areas under its control, while Turkey-backed authorities in Syria put the death toll in rebel-held areas at 4,537.

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