U.N. aid chief to pay first visit to Syria

The U.N.’s top aid official will pay his first visit to Syria

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The U.N.’s top aid official will pay his first visit to Syria next week to step up relief efforts in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Stephen O’Brien, who took up the job in May, is to hold talks with Syrian officials in Damascus and hopes to meet refugee families in Homs and in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, his office said Friday.

The visit comes amid a new push by the United States and Russia, Syria’s ally, along with other key players in the Gulf for renewed peace talks to end the war, now in its fifth year.

O’Brien told the Security Council last month that the crisis was worsening in Syria and that a political solution was more urgent than ever.

A tragic milestone was recorded last month when the number of Syrian refugees fleeing to neighboring countries rose to more than four million, making it the biggest exodus from war in a generation.

An additional 7.6 million are displaced inside the country, uprooting more than half of Syria’s pre-war population.

The humanitarian crisis now tops the U.N. list of global emergencies, with 12.2 million people in need of aid, including more than 5.6 million children.

O’Brien will travel to Lebanon and Syria from August 14-17 for a first-hand look of the humanitarian impact of the war, in which 240,000 people have died.

His predecessor Valerie Amos last visited Syria in January 2014.

O’Brien’s job title is Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

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