Syria received a planeload from the United Arab Emirates on Thursday with food items and medical aid to help the war-torn country in its fight against the spread of the coronavirus, Syria’s state media reported.
The aid from the UAE comes as Syria is witnessing a sharp increase in coronavirus cases. Last week, Damascus ordered schools and universities closed for two weeks to try limit the spread. Syria’s health system and infrastructure have been decimated by the country’s 10-year conflict that killed about half a million people and displaced half of Syria’s population.
Syria has registered nearly 20,000 cases of coronavirus, including more than 1,300 deaths. However, the real numbers are believed to be much higher as testing is limited, and most Syrians cannot afford tests due to the country’s crushing economic crisis.
In the early years of the war, the UAE supported the Syrian opposition. But as the war wound down and Syria’s government forces recapturing most of the territory once lost to the opposition, the UAE and a few other Arab countries made limited and usually indirect openings toward Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
In late 2018, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus — the first since an organized Arab diplomatic boycott of Syria started soon after the war erupted in 2011. The embassy representation is at the level of a chargé d’affaires but its very reopening was a sign more rapprochement is likely to follow.
The UAE’s state-run news agency WAM reported that the UAE’s Red Crescent had coordinated with its Syrian counterpart to deliver the COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable people in the war-torn country, including front-line medical workers, those with chronic diseases and displaced people.
The statement did not specify which vaccines were delivered, but the UAE largely has relied on the Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccine for its speedy inoculation campaign. The country previously has sent Sinopharm shipments to Egypt, a key Arab ally, and the Indian Ocean island nation of the Seychelles.