* Syria gives green light for cross-border aid from Iraq
* Up to 12 UNHCR flights scheduled from Thursday to Sunday
* Further 10 flights carrying food planned by WFP
* Up to 60,000 vulnerable in northeast Kurdish areas
(adds details, WFP flights, tweet by Iraq's envoy to UN)
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Dec 10 The United Nations' first relief
airlift to Syria from Iraq will deliver food and winter supplies
to the mostly Kurdish northeast over the next 10 days with the
permission of both governments, U.N. aid agencies said on
The airbridge, using Ilyushin-76 commercial cargo planes
flying to Hassakeh from Arbil in northern Iraq, will begin on
Thursday. Up to 12 flights are scheduled through Sunday, said
Amin Awad, director of the U.N. refugee agency's Middle East and
North Africa Bureau.
Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N.'s World Food
Programme (WFP), later said that it also planned 10 rotations
over the next 10 days in an operation aimed at feeding more than
30,000 people for a month. Its first flight would carry 40
metric tonnes of food, including wheat flour, pasta, oil, sugar,
salt, rice, canned beans and bulgur wheat, she said.
U.N. agencies have ferried limited aid supplies into Syria
from Iraq and Lebanon, but not via Turkey because of objections
from President Bashar al-Assad's government.
"This is the first time aid goes through Iraq," Awad told
Reuters in an interview in Geneva.
Syria gave permission about two weeks ago for the
cross-border U.N. operation from Iraq into Syrian Kurdish areas
of Hassakeh province, which had initially envisaged truck
convoys via the Yarubiya border crossing, a cheaper option, he
"As the situation was very complicated, negotiating with
many factions, we shifted to an airlift," Awad said, noting that
one main Kurdish group in the area was pro-Syrian government and
the other pro-Turkish.
The previously unannounced joint UNHCR-WFP operation had
been long planned by land, a Western diplomat said. "They had
trucks and were ready to move a week ago. It was supposed to be
over this past weekend but it didn't happen," he told Reuters.
The cities of Hassakeh and Qamishli are to receive food and
relief items as a harsh winter sets in, Awad said.
"OUT OF REACH FOR A LONG TIME"
The total cargo of 285 metric tonnes to be brought in by the
U.N. refugee agency will also include blankets, kitchen sets,
plastic tarpaulins for shelter, sleeping mats, and jerry cans,
UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton said.
"The number of vulnerable people in Hassakeh is estimated at
50,000-60,000 but we are still doing assessments. Hassakeh has
been out of reach for a long time," Awad said.
Awad said the United Nations was still "lining up airlines
that are willing to fly into that part of the country".
Well over 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict in
Syria, which began with peaceful protests against Assad in March
2011. The UNHCR says about 6.5 million people have fled their
homes within Syria and 2.3 million sought refuge abroad.
"Winter is here. This is one of the harshest winters
according to any forecast that you may get hold of, probably in
the last 100 years," Awad told a news briefing.
Iraq's envoy to the U.N., Nickolay Mladenov, tweeted:
"As @UNiraq and #Iraq agree humanitarian corridor to #Syria,
I call on all to allow for the resupply to take place in an
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, additional reporting by Sylvia
Westall in Baghdad; Editing by Ralph Boulton)