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UN planning to airlift aid to Syria’s Qamishli

The UN said Thursday it would begin flying desperately-needed aid from Damascus to the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, which has been inaccessible by domestic roads for more than two years.

“We are just about to launch an air bridge into Qamishli from Damascus,” the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, told reporters.

“The reason for this is that we have run out of meaningful means to reach people over land,” he said, adding that the airlift “…will bring life-saving assistance to a very large number of people.”

Qamishli, near the Turkish border, lies in Hasakeh governorate, which can only be reached by road in Syria by driving through the governorates of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, which are dominated by the Islamic State group.

“They haven’t been reached by land from within the country since early 2014,” said Bettina Luescher, spokeswoman for the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) which will coordinate the operation.

She told AFP that the flights, 25 in all over the next month, each carrying 14 tonnes of aid, are expected to begin “in the next few days.”

Some 1,000 tonnes of relief items — consisting 70 percent of food — will be flown in to a nearby airport and distributed in the town, Luescher said.

She said the aim during the first month was to feed 150,000 people.

“Because Qamishli has been without food for a long time, the first seven flights are just going to deliver food and nutrition supplies,” she said.

The UN previously set up an airlift to bring aid to Qamishli in 2014, and has also delivered assistance across the border from Turkey, but the main border crossing has been closed since the beginning of the year.

Syria’s conflict began in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government demonstrations. It has killed more than 280,000 people and displaced millions.