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More than 200 planes loaded with earthquake aid arrived in Syria: official

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More than 200 planes carrying humanitarian aid have flown to regime-held areas in Syria since two earthquakes centered in Turkey on February 6 hit the region, according to a statement from an official on Wednesday.

Aid has come mostly from allies of President Bashar al-Assad’s government since earthquakes measuring 7.7 and 7.6 struck the war-torn country and neighboring Turkey, killing more than 45,000 people.

“So far, 213 planes carrying aid from the earthquake have landed in Syria,” Suleiman Khalil, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Transport, told AFP, including 92 planes from the UAE.

After more than a decade of war, the Assad regime remains a pariah in the West.

But the earthquake that killed more than 3,600 people in Syria sparked Arab outreach to his internationally isolated government, which was expelled from the Arab League after the outbreak of conflict in 2011.

The United Arab Emirates, the first Gulf country to normalize relations with the Assad regime after years of boycott, is largely leading the regional relief effort.

On Tuesday, Minister of Health Abdul Rahman Al Owais went on an official trip to the earthquake-stricken Syrian coast, which is under the control of the regime, and told reporters that he wished for “a global unified position to face this huge humanitarian challenge.”

The last flight to land in Damascus was a Norwegian plane carrying 14 tons of Red Cross aid, including large tents with stoves, water pumps and water purification equipment.

“Those affected are extremely vulnerable due to years of war and crises,” said Jørgen Halldorsen of the Norwegian Red Cross.

Damascus also made an official appeal to the European Union for help two days after the deadly earthquake, with the EU Commission encouraging members to respond to the request.

The civil war in Syria, sparked by the government’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, has killed some 500,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population.

Even before the earthquake, most of the population was in need of humanitarian assistance. The recent disaster has added to the misery.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday it was taking advantage of a temporary easing of sanctions on Syria aimed at allowing humanitarian aid to be distributed more easily in the war-torn country after deadly earthquakes.

“WHO is moving very quickly at the moment with our partners to take advantage of this pause in sanctions,” Rick Brennan, WHO’s Regional Emergency Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region, said at a news briefing.

“We have already started ordering equipment and supplies, and we are working with UN partners on a collective approach to take advantage of the downtime.”

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