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Syria earthquake: Saudi plane carrying aid lands in Assad-controlled Aleppo

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Saudi Arabian plane carrying aid to quake-hit Syria landed in Aleppo on Tuesday, the first such shipment by the kingdom to Bashar al-Assad-controlled territory since the Syrian war erupted over a decade ago.

Planeloads of foreign aid have landed in Syria since two quakes struck the war-torn country and neighbouring Turkey, which have killed more than 35,000 people, with the numbers increasing daily.

The Saudi plane landed at Aleppo International Airport carrying 35 tonnes of food aid, Syrian state news agency Sana reported.

“The directives given to us from the leadership in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is to help the brotherly Syrian people affected (by the earthquake) across Syria,” a member of the Saudi delegation told Syrian television.

Two more Saudi planes are scheduled to land Wednesday and Thursday, transport ministry official Suleiman Khalil told AFP.

There have been no official flights between Saudi Arabia and Syria since February 2012.

The Syrian government became an international pariah when it violently cracked down on peaceful protests in 2011, sparking a civil war. Along with other Gulf states, Riyadh backed a slew of rebel groups trying to remove President Assad from power.

But in recent years, many Arab countries, most prominently the UAE, have resumed ties with Damascus. Assad made a historic trip to the UAE in March 2022, his first to an Arab country since the outbreak of Syria’s war.

Other countries in the region have started to accept Assad as the war’s victor and have made moves towards reconciliation. Jordan’s King Abdullah II held a phone call with Assad in October 2021 and Algeria has voiced support for Syria rejoining the Arab League.

Egypt’s president called Assad last week to offer support following the earthquake, in the first official exchange between the two leaders. And later in the week, Tunisian President Kais Saied announced that he will be strengthening diplomatic ties with Damascus.

Dire humanitarian situation

In the aftermath of two deadly quakes last week, Riyadh has pledged aid to both opposition-held and government-controlled areas of Syria.

On Saturday, it sent a first aid convoy of 11 trucks to opposition-held northwestern Syria, loaded with 104 tonnes of food and tarpaulins, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

There was no direct contact with the Assad government, an official at King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre told AFP earlier.

More than 3,600 people have been killed by the quake in Syria alone, according to the government and emergency services in the opposition-held northwest.

The mostly government-controlled province of Aleppo was badly hit, with more than 200,000 people left homeless, according to the World Health Organisation.

Since 2011, the conflict in Syria has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes, with many taking refuge in Turkey.

Even before Monday’s earthquake, Syria faced a dire humanitarian situation. The economy is on the verge of collapse and according to the UN, 90 percent of the country is living in poverty.

Source: Middle East Eye

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