October 4, 2023

La Ronge Northerner

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Syria’s cross-border aid lifeline faces closure after UN row

Syria’s cross-border aid lifeline faces closure after UN row

image source, Anadolu Agency

photo caption,

Some 2.7 million civilians in northwest Syria depend on the United Nations to provide for their basic needs

Russia has threatened to halt cross-border UN aid deliveries into opposition-held northwest Syria, after the Security Council failed to pass two competing resolutions re-authorizing it.

Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, vetoed a nine-month extension to use the Bab al-Hawa crossing that was endorsed by 13 of the 15 other council members.

But then she was unable to muster enough votes for her six-month proposal.

The United States accused Russia of “an act of extreme cruelty”.

Hundreds of trucks pass through Bab al-Hawa from Turkey every month, helping the 2.7 million civilians who depend on them for food, shelter and health care.

The lifeline has become even more important since the devastating earthquake that struck the region in February, killing more than 4,500 people and displacing 50,000 families.

Although the Security Council resolution means the UN must immediately halt aid deliveries through Bab al-Hawa, it will be able to continue until August 13 to use two additional border crossings that were opened with the approval of the Syrian government in the aftermath of the earthquake.

The United Nations said its agencies had prepositioned supplies on the ground in northwest Syria to ensure humanitarian needs could continue to be met for now.

photo caption,

Hundreds of aid trucks pass through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Türkiye each month

The Security Council for the first time allowed cross-border aid to areas in Syria outside government control without its approval in 2014.

But in 2020, Russia and China vetoed as permanent members of the council to stop deliveries through Jordan and Iraq, as well as the Bab al-Salama crossing with Turkey.

They argued that the operation violated Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that aid should cross front lines through government-held territory. This left Bab al-Hawa as the UN’s only option for reaching people in the northwest.

Since then, its use has been authorized every six or 12 months by the Security Council after a series of last-minute concessions negotiated by Russia and Western powers, which supported the Syrian opposition during the war.

On Tuesday, Russia vetoed another compromise resolution drafted by Brazil and Switzerland that would have extended the cross-border mechanism by nine months, covering the winter and allowing aid agencies to better plan their operations. All other council members voted in favor except for China, who abstained.

Only Russia and China voted in favor of the Russian proposal for a six-month extension. The United States, United Kingdom and France voted against, with 10 abstentions.

After using his veto and before the second vote, Permanent Representative of Russia Vasily Nebenzia warned the Council: “If our project is not supported, we can go ahead and close the cross-border mechanism.”

Her American counterpart, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the veto was a “sad moment for the Syrian people” and that Russia acted like a “playground bully – my way or the highway”.

“We cannot accept this obstruction. We must continue to do so. The Syrian people depend on us and we must all urge Russia to return to the table in good faith,” she added.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “disappointed” that council members were unable to reach an agreement and urged them to “redouble their efforts to support the continued provision of cross-border assistance to the millions of people who desperately need it”.

IRC chief executive David Miliband condemned Russia’s veto, saying: “It defies reason and principle, that members of the Security Council would vote not to maintain all aid access for vulnerable Syrians at this time.”