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WFP boss criticises northwestern Syrian authorities for slowing quake aid

By John Irish

MUNICH (Reuters) -The head of the World Food Programme (WFP) on Saturday pressured authorities in northwestern Syria to stop blocking access to the area as it seeks to help hundreds of thousands of people ravaged by earthquakes.

The agency last week said it was running out of stocks in northwest Syria and called for more border crossings to be opened from Turkey.

Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, WFP Director David Beasley said the Syrian and Turkish governments had been cooperating very well, but that its operations were being hampered in northwestern Syria.

"The problems we are running into is the cross-line operations into northwest Syria where the northwestern Syrian authorities are not giving us the access we need," Beasley told Reuters.

"That is bottlenecking our operations. That has to get fixed straight away."

More than 45,000 people have been killed in earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria, and the toll is expected to soar with some 264,000 apartments in Turkey destroyed and many still missing in the country's worst modern disaster.

Beasley said the devastation on crucial infrastructure and buildings would mean that survivors would need help for months to come, but the WFP, which is providing hot meals and take-home rations, would run out of money in about 60 days.

"Time is running out and we are running out of money. Our operation is about $50 million a month for our earthquake response alone so unless Europe wants a new wave of refugees, we need get the support we need," Beasley said.

In Syria, already shattered by more than a decade of civil war, the bulk of fatalities have been in the northwest.

The area is controlled by insurgents at war with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad which has complicated efforts to get aid to people.

Thousands of Syrians who had sought refuge in Turkey from their civil war have returned to their homes in the war zone - at least for now.

"I don't know why they are blocking. Why play games at a time like this. I will call them out and will not be silent about this," Beasley said, referring to the authorities in northwestern Syria.

(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Jason Neely)