BEIRUT: A Russian cargo plane carrying 36 tons of aid for Syrian refugees landed at Beirut’s airport Wednesday in what was described as a humanitarian gesture to help the Lebanese government cope with the refugee crisis.
An Ilyushin Il-76 arrived shortly past noon at Rafik Hariri International Airport and was the first humanitarian shipment from Moscow, which supports Syrian President Bashar Assad in the 2-year-old Syrian conflict.
Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin was waiting along with an embassy delegation at the airport where he was joined by the head of the government’s Higher Relief Committee, Ibrahim Bashir.
Caretaker government ministers were not present for the event.
The HRC will act as an intermediary in the distribution process of the aid, which consists of blankets, basic foods, housing appliances and electric generators, according to officials from Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry.
“The aid includes everything to help a Syrian family have a better life,” said one Russian official who declined to be identified by the media.
While the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees is aiding 400,000 Syrian refugees across the country, at least 145,000 are presently not benefiting from UNHCR aid.
Most are either unable to visit registration offices or are waiting to be registered. This comes at a time when the government has called on the international community to help the country cope with the increasing numbers of refugees fleeing Syria.
The official also said that the shipment was part of a Russian initiative to assist the government in improving the living standards of Syrian refugees.
“This is the first shipment; there is another shipment due to arrive next week and another two will be sent later in the month,” the official added.
Speaking to reporters as airport staff worked to unload the aid materials from the plane, Zasypkin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had reached an agreement with President Michel Sleiman earlier this year that Moscow would help the government deal with the refugee crisis.
“An agreement in principle was reached between the two presidents and Russia wanted to show its sympathy toward Syrians and Lebanese,” Zasypkin said.
Zasypkin called the move “humanitarian” and said it had no bearing on Moscow’s policy toward ongoing developments in Syria.
“I want to reiterate that the Russian Federation is still committed to a political solution to the Syrian crisis, through having a cease-fire and holding a national dialogue between the regime and the opposition based on the Geneva agreement,” the ambassador said.
Asked whether political affiliations would have any bearing on the distribution of aid, Zasypkin said Russia did not differentiate between Syrian refugees.
“We will take part in the distribution process with the Higher Relief Committee through our staff at the embassy,” he added.
For his part, Bashir thanked Zasypkin on behalf of the government and said that distribution priority would be given to refugees who had yet to benefit from humanitarian aid. “The aid will first go to Syrian refugees in Lebanon who are not benefiting from any other sources,” Bashir said.