U.N. aid chief in first Syria trip to assess needs

New United Nations humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien held talks with Syria's foreign minister during his first trip to Damascus

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New United Nations humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien held talks with Syria’s foreign minister on Sunday during his first trip to Damascus since taking the top aid post.

O’Brien, who succeeded Valerie Amos in May, told Walid Muallem he was ready to work with the Syrian government to alleviate humanitarian suffering in the country, according to Syria’s state news agency SANA.

Close to 12 million people have been displaced or become refugees because of Syria’s war.

SANA quoted Muallem as underlining “the Syrian government’s committment to meet the basic needs of the people, who face a fundamental battle against takfiri (extremist) terrorism.

O’Brien started his trip on August 14 with a brief stop in Lebanon, where he met officials including Prime Minister Tamam Salam.

On Saturday, he met Syria’s deputy foreign minister and travelled to the devastated central Syrian city of Homs, where he held talks with local governor Talal Barazi.

“Visited Homs today. Beyond destruction of buildings lies destruction of lives. Syria needs peace,” O’Brien wrote on his Twitter account after the visit.

“We are committed to continuing to support humanitarian efforts in Syria. Equal access to all people in need (is) vital for our work,” he added.

O’Brien is due to give a press conference in Damascus on Monday.

Syria’s conflict, which began in March 2011, has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

More than four million Syrians have fled the country, in the biggest exodus from war in a generation.

And with an additional 7.6 million Syrians displaced internally, around half of the country’s overall population has been uprooted by the war.

U.N. agencies estimate some 12.2 million Syrians are in need of aid, among them more than 5.6 million children.

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