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US-facilitated shipments of humanitarian aid to Syria have arrived north of Raqqa, a US State Department official told Grasswire on Thursday, July 13

The shipments are a response to the needs of the people of Tabqa and others displaced in the area as part of the START-Forward program, the official said.

START-Forward is a branch of the State Department’s ongoing Syria Transition Assistance Response Team program. The State Department earlier told Grasswire that the program “grew out of a concerted State-USAID-DoD planning process” and is focused on “meeting immediate needs through the provision of humanitarian assistance, clearing explosive remnants of war, and the restoration of essential services to enable people to return home and to prevent the return of ISIS.”

The official declined to provide details on the team’s size and location, nor the logistical details of aid deliveries, citing personnel security.

On July 1, the New York Times reported that nearly 50 tons of flour, paid for by the Pentagon, was delivered by truck from Iraq to an American-funded warehouse. The Times reported that another shipment of food aid — “enough for 30,000 people for 30 days” — would be delivered later.

The official did not confirm to Grasswire the amount of aid recently shipped by the US.

The shipments come as UN agencies greatly expanded their aid delivery programmes in this part of Syria after a land route from Aleppo via Manbij to Qamishli was reopened for the first time since 2014. Previously, the UN relied on air shipment which reduced significantly the amount of supplies it could distribute.

Jakob Kern, World Food Programme Country Director in Syria said: “Replacing airlifts with road deliveries will save an estimated US$19 million per year, as each truck on the road carries the equivalent of a planeload of food at a significantly lower cost.”

Kern said the savings will allow WFP to help an additional 100,000 people every year in Syria.

Since June the agency has dispatched 52 trucks to the northeastern Syria area, and it is now delivering food to almost 200,000 people each month in eight hard-to-reach locations.

Scott Craig, spokesperson for UNHCR in Syria, told Grasswire that the UN refugee agency had sent four convoys by the same route and delivered tents to accommodate over 20,000 people, 5000 water cans, 8000 sleeping mats and 7000 solar lamps, among other items.

UN aid deliveries to northern Syria significantly boosted by new overland route

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