EU eases Syria sanctions to speed up quake aid
The European Union said Thursday it is temporarily easing sanctions on Syria to speed up aid deliveries to the country two weeks after a devastating earthquake.
Aid organisations will no longer need to seek permission from EU member state governments before sending supplies and services to sanctioned entities in Syria, the European Council representing the bloc's countries said in a statement.
The measure will last for six months and was taken "in view of the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in Syria exacerbated by the earthquake".
The massive 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 pointed out that it and its member states are at the forefront of donors of humanitarian aid to conflict-torn Syria, having contributed a total 27.4 billion euros ($26 billion) to that country and to refugee-hosting neighbours such as Turkey since 2011.
Post-quake, the EU provided 3.5 million euros 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, imposed in 2011, target 291 individuals and 70 entities for asset freezes and a travel ban.
The change made Thursday means "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 statement said.
The UN's World Health Organization said Wednesday it was taking advantage of a post-earthquake pause in sanctions to move badly needed health supplies and equipment into war-torn Syria.
But activists and emergency teams in Syria's northwest have decried the UN's slow response to the quake in rebel-held areas, contrasting it with the planeloads of humanitarian aid that have been delivered to government-controlled airports.