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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

A Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy drives to the Rukban camp on the border with Jordan on November 4, 2018. Syrian Arab Red Crescent via AP

Syria's Rukban camp receives first UN convoy in months

Thousands of displaced Syrians stranded in a camp near the Jordanian border received the first delivery of aid since January on Sunday, after conditions there were described as a humanitarian catastrophe.

The United Nations said it was delivering food, sanitation and hygiene supplies, and nutrition and health assistance to 50,000 people in Rukban, an area under rebel control, in an operation expected to take three to four days.

“We are also conducting an emergency vaccination campaign to protect some 10,000 children against measles, polio and other deadly diseases,” said Ali Al Zatari, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria.

Civilians in Rukban were running out of food and water after President Bashar Al Assad's regime closed routes leading to the camp, preventing aid deliveries and relief workers from entering.

Residents told The National that the shipments were delivered to the camp but the situation was deteriorating.

“There are no words to describe and explain how catastrophic the conditions are inside the camp, especially as the weather is getting colder,” said Emad Ali, a resident who has been living in the camp for the past year.

“Rukban lacks everything, there needs to be a consistency of these deliveries and we worry whether the aid will reach everyone,” Mr Ali said.

The delivery of food and non-food assistance is seen as positive step for camp residents, said Sarah Abadi, but she fears this could be the last shipment.

Washington welcomed the news that the UN was finally able to begin delivering aid to the camp.

"We recognise the tireless, courageous efforts of the humanitarian workers who are undertaking these operations. We hope this delivery lays the foundation for sustained rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to Rukban and all areas in need throughout Syria," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

A aid convoy was scheduled to arrive on October 27 but was postponed due to logistical and security issues.

More than 70 trucks are to ferry in more than 10,000 food parcels and bags of flour, as well as clothes for 18,000 children, the Red Crescent said.

The aid includes newborn kits for 1,200 children, medicines, medical supplies and nutritional supplements for children and women, it said.

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Despite the aid delivery, officials and health workers fear that hunger, disease are on the rise inside the camp.

To access a basic health services, residents have to cross into Jordan, through a border that has been largely closed since 2016.

In October, a four-month-old girl died of blood poisoning and dehydration, and a five-day-old boy lost his life to blood poisoning and severe malnutrition, according to Unicef, the UN's children agency.

"Four people have died, including a 20-year-old girl who suffered from anaemia. The doctors inside the camp gave her the authority to be treated at the Unicef medical clinic on the Jordanian side. However she was denied entry and died on her way back to the camp," Mr Al Zatari said.

The camp is in an area controlled by tribal militias, US forces and the Free Syrian Army.

It lies within a 55 kilometre so-called deconfliction zone set up by the Pentagon with the aim of blocking Iranian supply routes to the region and preventing pro-regime forces from operating there.

On Friday, the US military said Mr Al Assad's ally Russia had again refused to support the delivery of UN aid from Damascus to Rukban despite US security guarantees.

"This is the latest episode of a malicious campaign by Russia and the Assad regime to muddle ground truth and hinder humanitarian operations," said US Central Command spokesman Bill Urban.

Syrians began arriving at the camp in 2015 after fleeing areas of Syria that were under the control of ISIS, which captured large areas of the country amid the turmoil of the Syrian civil war that began in 2011.