EU suspends Syrian sanctions for six months to speed up quake aid deliveries

EU member states will no longer have to give permission to aid groups before sending supplies and services

Workers unload boxes of aid from the Norwegian Red Cross, at the Damascus international airport on February 22. Sana / AFP
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Sanctions imposed on Syria have been temporarily eased by the EU to speed up aid deliveries to the country two weeks after a devastating earthquake.

EU member states will no longer need to give permission to aid organisations before sending supplies and services to sanctioned entities in Syria, the European Council said.

The decision was made "in view of the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in Syria exacerbated by the earthquake" and will last six months.

The 7.8-magnitude quake on February 6 has killed more than 42,000 people in Turkey and more than 3,600 in Syria.

The EU said it and its member states are leading donors of humanitarian aid to conflict-torn Syria, having contributed €27.4 billion ($26 billion) to the country and to neighbours hosting its refugees, such as Turkey, since 2011.

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After the earthquake, the EU provided €3.5 million for urgent humanitarian needs in Syria.

Syria's government and businesses linked to it have been under EU sanctions because of Damascus's violent repression, making European aid contributions tricky.

The EU sanctions were imposed in 2011, against 291 people and 70 entities for asset freezes and a travel ban.

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"The EU has waived the need for humanitarian organisations to seek prior permission from EU member states' national competent authorities to make transfers or provide goods and services intended for humanitarian purposes to listed persons and entities," the Council said.

The UN World Health Organisation said on Wednesday that it was taking advantage of a post-earthquake pause in sanctions to move badly needed health supplies and equipment into Syria.

But activists and emergency teams in Syria's north-west have criticised the UN's slow response to the quake in rebel-held areas, comparing it with planeloads of humanitarian aid that have been delivered to government-controlled airports.

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Updated: February 23, 2023, 10:17 PM