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US, UN earthquake aid slow to enter Syria as border entry barriers compounds the crisis


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A handful of international aid organizations have finally been allowed entry into Syria after days of delays due to a limited number of border crossing points, as both Syria and Turkey deal with the aftermath of an earthquake that has claimed over 22,000 lives and counting.

The Biden White House said Thursday that "within hours" of the first earthquake, federal agencies were mobilized to assist Turkish allies and partners in Syria, and the administration is so far providing $85 million in assistance. U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) announced Friday that it is also supporting humanitarian efforts in Turkey.

More than 40 countries immediately offered to help Turkey, said the president of Turkey’s disaster management authority, Yunus Sezer. The delivery of aid to Turkey has been complicated by heavily damaged infrastructure and thousands of collapsed buildings.

But the situation is even more complicated in Syria, where the authoritarian Assad regime has only opened one border crossing to allow the entry of much-needed humanitarian assistance and rescue aid.

TURKEY HIT WITH 7.8 MAGNITUDE EARTHQUAKE, FELT ACROSS MIDDLE EAST

"We are grateful to the Government of Türkiye for re-opening the border so aid can flow into northwest Syria, and we welcome news today of the first UN aid convoy arriving via the Bab al-Hawa crossing," the White House said Thursday.

The Bab al-Hawa crossing is currently the only corridor between Syria and Turkey that is allowing the flow of humanitarian assistance, and the White House urged Syria to open more entry points.

"We call on the Assad regime to immediately allow aid in through all border crossings; allow the distribution of aid to all affected areas; and to let humanitarians access all people in Syria who are in need, without exception," the White House stated.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday that there are several reasons why providing aid to Turkey and Syria is an "exceedingly challenging situation" due to the strength and magnitude of the earthquakes.

RESCUERS SEARCH FOR SURVIVORS IN TURKEY, SYRIA AFTER EARTHQUAKE LEAVES MORE THAN 5,000 DEAD

"But on the Syrian side of the border, the challenge is compounded by the fact that there is only one border crossing point, only one crossing point, and for much of the past 48 hours, that crossing point had been rendered inaccessible because of damage to the area," Price said.

"There is really only one reason why there is only one border crossing point. That is because the Russian Federation has entirely vetoed, overturned any efforts to open additional border crossings," he explained.

Russia has said it plans to send assistance directly to its close ally Syria amid western-led international isolation due to the war in Ukraine.

Price said it is clear that there is "utility" for "having redundant alternative border crossings" so the U.S. can be in a position to render additional aid.

"The devastating earthquake compounds the crises that Syrians already endure," Syrian Dr. Houssam al-Nahhas, who is a Middle East and North Africa researcher at Physicians for Human Rights, said in a statement.

"We call for immediate, unhindered humanitarian assistance to all communities affected by the earthquake, wherever and whoever they are. International actors must also prioritize reaching those who are hardest to reach, particularly in northwest Syria, which has been cut off from the outside world except for the lone international aid checkpoint with Türkiye at Bab-al-Haw," said al-Nahhas, who worked in the region until 2019.

Kieren Barnes, Mercy Corps’ country director for Syria, told Fox News Digital that implementing programming in Northwest Syria was previously challenging, but now it is "even more complex."

"The United Nations utilized the humanitarian border crossing for the first time since the earthquake on Thursday," Barnes said. "However, organizations like Mercy Corps that already have operations and pre-positioned supplies in Northwest Syria were able to begin providing aid prior to that. We are advocating that border crossings remain open to both humanitarian aid and commercial supplies, in order to enable markets to be stocked and available for organizations like Mercy Corps to procure aid within Northwest Syria."

Barnes warned that with communications still largely down and "extreme cold weather" in the region, the situation is becoming more dire, and said transportation issues are compounding problems.

Mercy Corps has 45 Syrian team members on the ground in Northwest Syria working on getting hygiene kits and shelter supplies to impacted people. Before the earthquake, the organization was supporting 300,000 individuals, Fox News Digital was told.

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Fox News Digital's requests for comment from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) were not immediately returned.

The WHO reportedly said Thursday that it is concerned by a possible "secondary disaster" due to the extremely low temperatures in the region, an issue that could become even more deadly if help doesn't arrive.

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