The United States and United Kingdom took measures to stop possible money transfers to the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorist organization in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, ordering their government aid agencies to stop using a border crossing between Turkey and Syria. The reason behind the decision is reported to be due to concerns of the possibility that taxes on aid trucks that are collected on Syrian territory were being used to fund the HTS.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) directed its partners working in northwest Syria to immediately cease all use of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for USAID-funded awards on Sept. 26, a USAID official told Reuters on Thursday.
Likewise, Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) directed its aid partners to stop using the crossing, a U.K. government source said, citing concerns that levies were being paid to the terrorist group in exchange for allowing aid trucks to pass.
HTS, an al-Qaida-linked group formerly known as the Nusra Front, is the most powerful terrorist alliance in Idlib, the last major opposition-controlled enclave outside of Bashar Assad's control.
After the fall of Aleppo in November 2016, dozens of opposition groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and the HTS, have squeezed into Idlib. The HTS is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and Canada.
Idlib is the last remaining de-escalation zone and home to three million people including opposition fighters and internally displaced people coming from other parts of the war-torn country. Prior to the Sochi agreement between Turkey and Russia on the demilitarization of Idlib, the province had been targeted by fierce airstrikes from Russia and the Syrian regime, who claimed they were fighting the HTS.
Some 2,284 trucks carrying aid went through the crossing in the first eight months of this year, according to David Swanson of the United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The Bab al-Salama border crossing from Turkey into Aleppo province, also used by USAID partners for humanitarian shipments, will not be impacted, the U.S. official said. The Syrian Salvation Government, an administration set up to run civilian affairs in opposition-held Idlib, said on Saturday that the collection of fees on trucks delivering humanitarian aid would be stopped this month. But the aid convoys have yet to resume.
Britain is currently reviewing its decision, the U.K. government source said, while the USAID official did not comment on whether the decision is under review following the Salvation Government's statement.
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