A Russian solider looks on near Syrian fighters and villagers as a Russian military convoy arrives in Kaoukab a small village near the city of Hama on May 4, 2016. Under pressure from Russia and the United States, the Syrian army agreed on to respect a two-day truce in the war-ravaged city of Aleppo. / AFP PHOTO / Vasily MAXIMOV / MOY

More Syrian children are in need than at any time since a devastating civil war erupted over a decade ago, but funding for them is “dwindling”, the United Nations warned on Sunday.

“Syria’s children have suffered for far too long and should not suffer any longer,” the UN children’s agency said in a statement, noting that 12.3 million were in need of aid both inside the country and in the wider region where they had fled.

“More than 6.5 million children in Syria are in need of assistance, the highest number recorded since the beginning of the crisis, more than 11 years ago,” it added.

Syria’s war is estimated to have killed nearly half a million people and displaced millions since it began with a brutal crackdown of anti-government protests in 2011. It escalated to pull in foreign powers and jihadists.

“Children’s needs, both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries, are growing,” said Adele Khodr, Unicef’s Middle East chief.

“Many families struggle to make ends meet. Prices of basic supplies including food are skyrocketing, partially as a result of the crisis in Ukraine.”

Children are among the most vulnerable and the UN warned they are bearing the brunt of the impact.

BASHAR VISITS TEHRAN: Meanwhile,Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi during a brief visit to Tehran on Sunday, Iranian state television said.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left) meets Syrian President Bashar alAssad (centre) on Sunday. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is also seen.

“Assad has left Iran for Damascus after meeting separately with the supreme leader” and the president, the report said.

Iran is a major ally of Assad, backing him alongside Russia in Syria’s more than decade long civil war.

Tehran has given financial and military support to the Assad regime during the 11-year war, and says it has deployed forces in Syria at the invitation of Damascus but only as advisers.

The relationship between Tehran and Damascus are “vital for both countries and we should not let it weaken,” Khamenei said, according to a statement on his website.

“We should strengthen it as much as possible.” Assad’s last reported visit to Iran was in February 2019 — and that was the first one since the start of the war.

Iran’s supreme leader also hit out at Arab nations that normalised relations with Tehran’s arch nemesis Israel under the US-sponsored Abraham Accords.

“While leaders of neighbouring countries hang out with those of the Zionist regime and drink coffee with them, the people of these countries take to the streets and chant anti-Zionist slogans on Quds (Jerusalem) Day,” Khamenei said.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco all normalised ties with Israel in 2020, breaking with decades of Arab consensus that there should be no recognition of the Jewish state in the absence of a peace agreement establishing a Palestinian state.

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