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WHO uses sanctioned Syrian airline to deliver aid to Libya

January 12, 2021 at 4:16 pm

A Cham Wings plane, a private Syrian airline, is pictured taking off from an airport [SAFIN HAMED/AFP via Getty Images]

The World Health Organisation has used an aircraft belonging to the Syrian regime to deliver medical supplies to the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, making it the latest of questionable affiliations taken by the organisation. The regime is operating under sanctions which also affect its institutions and anyone using them.

The WHO in Libya published a photo on its Twitter account showing the aircraft belonging to Cham Wings, saying that it delivered “more than sixteen tons of medicines, supplies and equipment” to Benghazi. It stated that it “continues to provide humanitarian assistance aid to the people of Libya.”

Cham Wings is owned by the regime-affiliated businessman Issam Shammout and is thus subject to multiple sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union for its transportation of arms and fighters between Russia, Syria, and Libya.

The media office for the Libyan Government’s “Operation Volcano of Rage” reported that the airline has previously conducted 22 flights to Benghazi transporting Syrian and Russian mercenaries to assist rogue Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) against the Tripoli-based authorities.

The flights apparently leave Damascus Airport or Russia’s Hmeimim Air Base in Latakia, before landing at Benghazi’s Benina Airport or the UAE’s Al Khadim Air Base in Al-Marj.

The sanctions on Cham Wings include those placed on it by the US Treasury in 2016, which were due to the airline’s cooperation with Assad “to transport militants to Syria to fight on behalf of the Syrian regime and assisted the previously-designated Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) in moving weapons and equipment for the Syrian regime.”

READ: UN official urges US to lift Syria sanctions

That statement also asserted that the airline was acting on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is responsible for supporting Assad during the ongoing Syrian civil war and the creation of Shia militias in Syria and Iraq.

“The Cham Wings flight from Damascus to Dubai was one of the main routes that SMI used to launder money in the region,” the Treasury statement added. “SMI paid all parties involved to ensure they would continue to do business with the Assad regime.”

According to the WHO’s Representative in Libya, Elizabeth Hoff, the medical supplies delivered will be used to support the health services and facilities in eastern Libya. The aim is to strengthen the response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

This is not the first time that the WHO, which is an agency of the United Nations, has been involved with shady and repressive state actors. It was accused of affiliation with the Chinese government and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) earlier in the pandemic last year when one of its senior advisors Bruce Aylward dodged a question regarding China’s rival Taiwan in April.

Another UN agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), has insisted that the use of Cham Wings is legitimate. It pointed out that it has used the airline itself to transport 16 metric tonnes of aid from the UAE to Libya. Speaking to the London-based news outlet Middle East Eye today, a WFP spokesperson reasoned that, “Due to the situation on the ground, the options for air freight delivery into Libya are minimal, and in this case, the WHO medical cargo was transported by the air carrier Chams Wings, which is not subject to United Nations sanctions.”

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