October 30, 2020

‘Lives will be lost,’ warn aid groups as UN resolution leaves single Syria border crossing open

Issued on: 12/07/2020 – 11:38Modified: 12/07/2020 – 11:50

A UN Security Council resolution passed Saturday that leaves only one of two border crossings open for aid deliveries from Turkey into rebel-held northwestern Syria will cost lives and intensify the suffering of 1.3 million people living there, aid agencies warned.

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Western states had pressed for aid access to northwestern Syria to continue through two crossings at the Turkish border.  But Russia — President Bashar al-Assad‘s main ally —  and China vetoed a last-ditch effort to keep both open.

Following a week of division and intense negotiations, the Security Council passed a proposal submitted by Germany and Belgium allowing the use of the Bab al-Hawa crossing point for one year.

Saturday’s vote capped a week of high-stakes rivalry between Russia and China, and the 13 other council members who voted twice to maintain the two crossings from Turkey that were in operation until their mandate ended Friday. 

Both times, Russia and China vetoed the resolutions — the 15th and 16th veto by Russia of a Syria resolution since the conflict began in 2011 and the ninth and 10th by China.

While expressing relief over the extension of one border crossing, German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass admitted that, “We cannot and do not want to conceal that we believe more crossings are necessary.”

Humanitarian agencies once again warned that power wrangling in the region had denied aid to more than a million Syrians in need. “In northwest Syria, where a vital cross-border lifeline has been closed … it will be harder to reach an estimated 1.3 million people dependent on food and medicine delivered by the UN cross-border,” aid agencies operating in Syria said in a joint statement.

“Many will now not receive the help they need. Lives will be lost. Suffering will intensify,” the statement noted adding, “With the first case of Covid-19 confirmed in Idlib, an area with a severely weakened health infrastructure, this is a devastating blow.”

Russia blasts ‘clumsiness, disrespect’

In January, Russia used  its veto threat to force the Security Council to adopt a resolution reducing the number of crossing points for aid deliveries from four to two, from Turkey to the northwest.

It also cut in half the year-long mandate that had been in place since cross-border deliveries began in 2014 to six months.

Before adopting the resolution Saturday, the council rejected two amendments proposed by Russia, including one suggesting that US and EU sanctions on Syria were impeding humanitarian aid.

That contention was vehemently rejected by the Trump administration and the EU, which noted their sanctions include exemptions for humanitarian deliveries. It also rejected an amendment from China.

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, said after the vote that from the beginning Moscow had proposed one crossing — from Bab al-Hawa to Idlib — and that Saturday’s resolution could have been adopted weeks ago.

He said Russia abstained in the vote because negotiations over the resolution were marred by “clumsiness, disrespect”.

He said cross-border aid to Syria’s northwest doesn’t comply with international law because the UN has no presence in the region, which he described as being controlled “by international terrorists and fighters” that make it impossible to control and monitor who gets aid.

Aid agencies however maintain they are trying to reach vulnerable civilian populations.

In a separate statement, Physicians for Human Rights said Saturday’s resolution had shut down “direct routes to hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians in dire need of food and medicine”. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)