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The first international team, earthquake aid arrives in opposition-held Syria

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The first UN team arrived in opposition-held northwest Syria on Tuesday, eight days after two major earthquakes destroyed homes and killed at least 35,000 people in Turkey and Syria.

As hopes of finding alive people in the rubble fade more than a week after the magnitude 7.7 and 7.6 earthquakes struck, the focus has shifted to providing food and shelter to the large numbers of survivors.

But activists and emergency teams in northwestern Syria have criticized the UN’s slow response to the earthquake in opposition-held areas, and have opposed it with plane shipments of humanitarian aid being delivered to government-held airports.

Sanjana Kwazi, who heads the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Turkey, told reporters in the opposition-held town of Sarmada.

Fears have been growing for survivors on both sides of the border, with the United Nations saying more than seven million children have been adversely affected between Syria and Turkey, citing fears that “several thousand” more have been killed.

“It’s tragically clear that the numbers will continue to grow,” said James Elder, a spokesman for the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, adding that the final toll would be “mind-boggling”.

The confirmed death toll from the quake is 35,662, with officials and medics saying 31,974 people died in Turkey and at least 3,688 in Syria.

The count had barely changed in Syria for several days and was expected to rise.

sewage hazards

The mental stress of disaster combined with the brutal realities of surviving cities reduced to ruins in the middle of a bitter winter.

In Kahramanmaraş in Turkey, huge crowds relied on a single, still-functioning toilet in a central mosque.

“There are no latrines, latrines should be set up in tents,” said Hüsne Düz, 53, who has lived with thousands of others in the tent city for the past week.

“I walk five kilometers every day to come here for the toilet. We can’t find anywhere else,” Erdal Lal, 44, told AFP.

The pungent smell of smoke from hundreds of fires, to which people kept going to ward off the cold, permeated most of Turkey’s stricken regions.

“We need to take a shower,” Dawes said. “So there is a need for washing machines.”

Help for Syria

In the devastated Turkish city of Antakya, clean-up teams removed rubble and installed basic toilets as the telephone network began to return to parts of the city, an AFP correspondent said.

AFP teams reported that food and other aid was pouring into the city, as well as Kahramanmaraş.

But getting aid into neighboring Syria, already reeling from a 12-year civil war, is particularly worrisome.

Isolated and under Western sanctions, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has called for international assistance to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

A Saudi plane carrying aid has landed in the second city of Aleppo, the first in more than a decade of war in Syria, a transport ministry official told AFP, with two more shipments expected later this week.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that Assad had agreed to open two more border crossings from Turkey into northwestern Syria to allow aid.

Prior to the earthquake, all necessary humanitarian aid was delivered to more than four million people living in rebel-held areas of northwest Syria through only one crossing.

Aid from the earthquake enters Syria through a new crossing

The United Nations said an aid convoy crossed on Tuesday from Turkey into opposition-held northern Syria at a newly opened crossing, the first through Bab al-Salama since last week’s earthquake.

An AFP correspondent at the crossing confirmed that the United Nations convoy had entered. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, Paul Dillon, told AFP in Geneva that “11 trucks” entered through the “newly opened Bab al-Salama crossing.”

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