A senior humanitarian official on Sunday dismissed criticism that United Nations assistance to Syria is helping prop up the Damascus regime, saying that realism and the need to help those affected by the civil war shape the aid operations, not who is in power in a particular country.

Amin Awad, director of the Middle East and North Africa bureau at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees could not rule out UNHCR awarding contracts to close associates of President Bashar Al Assad.

Mr Awad took this stance despite criticism by independent academics that large sums had gone to Mr Assad’s innermost circle and their business networks, as the regime prevents aid from reaching parts of the population it regards as disloyal, having used siege warfare and bombing of residential areas to pacify them.

In a rare instance in which operational details on UN activities in Syria were revealed, a 2016 report by Dr Reinoud Leenders, then of King’s College London, said the UNHCR gave more than $7.7 million (Dh28.3m) to the Syria Trust charity, headed by Mr Assad’s wife, Asma, who is on US and EU sanctions lists.

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