BEIRUT: The Syrian opposition appealed Thursday for emergency fuel deliveries to rebel-held areas, saying two children had “died of cold” as a winter storm gripped the region.
The opposition National Coalition said parents were unable to keep children warm in bombed out buildings as temperatures plummeted and snow carpeted many of Syria’s battlegrounds.
“Hussein Tawil, a 6-month-old baby, died of cold yesterday [Wednesday] in Aleppo,” Syria’s second city which has been a key battleground since July last year, coalition spokesman Soner Ahmad said. “He was probably living in a house that had been damaged.”
Another child died from the cold in Rastan, a rebel-held town in the central province of Homs, he added.
Video footage posted online by activists showed the lifeless body of a small child that the unidentified cameraman said had died of cold in Rastan. AFP could not verify its authenticity.
“The situation is terrible. There is no fuel,” Ahmad said, appealing for urgent help for Syrians inside the country and in refugee camps abroad to cope with the wintry conditions.
The Education Ministry ordered those schools still operating in government-held areas to close because of the extreme weather.
Drifting snow blocked several roads in Homs province, the state SANA news agency said.
A photograph of bombed out buildings in the province covered in snow went viral on the Internet.
Severe winter weather also delayed the start of the first United Nations airlift of aid items from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region to Syria, a spokesman said Thursday.
“It appears … the weather in Qamishli has delayed the start of the airlift, as well as prevailing conditions across the region,” Peter Kessler, the regional spokesman for the U.N.’s refugee agency, told AFP, referring to the city in northeast Syria to which aid supplies are to be flown.
“When it will start is difficult to say – I think the authorities in Qamishli are going to check conditions at the airfield Friday; they announced yesterday [Wednesday] a 48-hour delay,” he said.
The airlift, which has been given the go-ahead by both the Syrian and Iraqi governments, was initially expected to begin Thursday.
UNHCR plans to fly some 40 metric tons of aid into the area, which has become increasingly dangerous to reach, providing “core relief items for 10,000 families, or about 50-60,000 people,” Kessler said this week.
The U.N.’s World Food Program and children’s agency UNICEF were also to send aid into Syria via air.
Kurdish-majority areas of the country’s northeast were relatively quiet until clashes broke out this year between Kurds and jihadist rebels, pushing tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds across the border into Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region.
A Syrian activist, who works with aid agencies on the Turkish border, told AFP by Internet that the snow and ice were making it more difficult for them to get supplies into rebel-held areas of the north too.
“The situation is very difficult,” said the activist, who gave his name only as Ammar. “In some areas, people cannot afford fuel for heating, so they are chopping down trees. In other areas, there isn’t any fuel at all … And the poor conditions on roads are making it more difficult to take in humanitarian aid.”
Ammar said that in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, hub of Syria’s oil industry before the civil war and Western sanctions decimated production, people were burning unrefined crude to keep warm. “This is very, very harmful,” he warned.