ROME, June 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Food aid has reached Syria's Kurdish-dominated city of Qamishli by road for the first time in two years in a "humanitarian breakthrough" that will increase support for tens of thousands of families, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Although Qamishli lies on the Turkish border, the crossing is closed and the U.N. aid effort in northeastern Syria has relied on airlifts from Damascus to Qamishli since July 2016.
Last week, Syria gave the U.N. permission to get aid to Qamishli by truck, relieving the strain on a base that is supporting thousands of people who have been displaced by the war with Islamic State.
A convoy of three lorries from Homs has since arrived in the city in the northeastern Hasakeh region, passing by Aleppo and bringing a month's supply of food for 15,000 people, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said.
"This humanitarian breakthrough will allow us to increase regular support for all 250,000 people in need in Hasakeh," WFP's Syria country director Jakob Kern said in a statement.
The agency said it could previously assist only 190,000 people by airlifts, due to higher costs and limited capacity.
"Once regular land access to Hasakeh is established, WFP will gradually phase out of its current airlift operation," Kern said.
That could save the agency some $19 million annually - enough to provide a year's food aid to 100,000 people, WFP said.
WFP flights had been running at full capacity, twice a day, six days a week for almost a year.
Roads became inaccessible in December 2015, and restoration of deliveries was only made possible by improved security, the agency said.
The development came as U.S. backed Syrian militias were closing in on Islamic State's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which include Arab and Kurdish fighters and are supported with air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition, began an offensive two weeks ago to seize the northern city from Islamic State, which overran it in 2014.
Earlier in June, the U.N. said it estimated that 440,000 people might need humanitarian aid as a result of the offensive. (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)