Saudi plane carrying aid lands in Syria, first in decade
ALEPPO, Syria (AFP) - A Saudi Arabian plane carrying aid to quake-hit Syria landed in second city Aleppo Tuesday -- the first in more than a decade of war, a transport ministry official told AFP.
Planeloads of foreign aid have landed in Syria since a 7.8-magnitude quake struck the war-torn country and neighbouring Turkey killing more than 35,000 people.
"This is the first plane from Saudi Arabia to land on Syrian territory in more than 10 years," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the press.
The Saudi plane landed at Aleppo International Airport carrying 35 tonnes of food aid, state news agency SANA reported. Two more Saudi planes are scheduled to land Wednesday and Thursday, another transport ministry official, Suleiman Khalil, told AFP.
The last such flight landed in Syria in February 2012. After more than a decade of war, President Bashar al-Assad's government remains a pariah in the West, complicating international efforts to assist those affected by the quake.
The Arab League suspended Syria in 2011 and some Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, have severed ties. Saudi Arabia broke off relations with President Bashar al-Assad's government in 2012 and backed rebels in earlier stages of the war.
Riyadh has pledged aid to both rebel-held and government-controlled areas of the country. On Saturday, it sent a first aid convoy of 11 trucks to rebel-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 rebel-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 Organization.
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, the majority of the population was in need of humanitarian assistance. The latest disaster has only piled on more misery.