UN explores land route options to get aid to Syria’s Qamishli

by Reuters
Monday, 20 March 2017 16:27 GMT

A man walks at a damaged site after two bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli near the Turkish border, Syria July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

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Syrian Kurdish groups say new road route marks an economic breakthrough for the autonomous region which had been under "siege" by hostile parties

GENEVA, March 20 (Reuters) - The United Nations is testing a new road route to deliver aid to the Syrian city of Qamishli, and also has provisional approval from the Syrian government for supplies to cross the border from Turkey, according to minutes of a logistics meeting published on Monday.

Kurdish-dominated Qamishli has been receiving hundreds of aid airlifts from Damascus since July last year, flown in by the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), partly in preparation for a possible influx of refugees from the battle for Mosul in Iraq.

Despite historic enmity, Syrian Kurdish groups have steered clear of confrontation with the Syrian government in the six-year-old civil war.

The route trial comes after the head of the Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria said this month that a new land corridor to the government-controlled west had opened up after advances by Syrian government forces. He said the corridor marked an economic breakthrough for the autonomous region which had been under "siege" by hostile parties.

Minutes of a meeting of U.N. aid agencies in Damascus on March 16, including representatives of WFP and the U.N. humanitarian agency UNHCR, suggested aid convoys could soon take advantage of the new land route.

"WFP and UNHCR are in the process of sending humanitarian assistance by road as a trial from Damascus or Aleppo through Menbij to reach Qamishli," the minutes of the meeting said.

"This will be the first time U.N. agencies send trucks to Qamishli directly. Both agencies have submitted a request to the (Syrian) Ministry of Local Affairs and are awaiting approval."

The U.N. has for months also been asking permission to truck aid into Qamishli from the Turkish border town of Nusaybin. Airlifting aid is expensive and inefficient compared to sending a convoy of trucks.

Syria's Foreign Ministry had told the chief U.N. humanitarian official in the country that Syria's government was ready to approve use of the crossing, provided that approval is also obtained from the Turkish Government, the minutes said.

That may not be straight forward. Turkey to the north of Syria's Kurdish region is hostile to the YPG, the main Syrian Kurdish militia.

The ministry's letter also said aid deliveries would have to be coordinated with the governor and relief sub-committee of Syria's Hasakeh governorate.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Richard Lough)