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UN aid convoy to Syria's Rukban refugee camp delayed

Sandstorms in area may have postponed much-needed humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of refugees
Screenshot of rare footage showing remote Rukban camp near Syria-Jordan border (YouTube)

United Nations-led aid delivery, critically needed by thousands of civilians stranded in a camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border, has been postponed and will not arrive on Saturday as was expected by community leaders, a UN official said on Friday.

"The planned joint UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent [SARC] humanitarian convoy to Rukban camp has been delayed for logistical and security reasons," Fadwa Abed Rabou Baroud, a Damascus-based UN official, told Reuters.

Community leaders said heavy sandstorms had hit the make-shift camp in the past 48 hours. The last time an aid convoy reached Rukban was in January.

"The UN have coordinated very well with us, but the delay could well be due to the weather conditions and the sandstorms. Anyway, the reason for the delay will become clearer in the next day or two," said Oqba al Abdullah, an official inside the camp.

The United Nations office said it had received authorisation from the Syrian government to deliver the aid and confirmed preparations were being made for a convoy to desperate camp residents this week, but did not give a date.

A siege earlier this month by the Syrian army and a block on aid by Jordan has depleted food at the desert camp, where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet.

The UN last year said about 45,000 people, mostly women and children, were trapped in Rukban. Organisations including Doctors Without Borders have said the number of refugees living there is closer to 60,000.

Rukban lies inside a "deconfliction zone" set up by US forces. Damascus says US troops are occupying Syrian territory and providing a safe haven for rebels.

In the past three years, tens of thousands of people have fled to the camp from Islamic State group-held parts of Syria being targeted by Russian and US-led coalition air strikes.