Western nations and Russia are heading toward a showdown Friday over the delivery of humanitarian aid from Turkey to opposition-held northwest Syria, where the United Nations says 3.4 million people are in desperate need of food and other assistance.
The current mandate for cross-border deliveries expires Saturday.
The key issue is whether the U.N. Security Council should authorize deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa crossing for another year as the West, U.N. and humanitarian groups want, or for it to remain open for just six months as Russia, Syria’s closest ally, is insisting on. Russia, which backs Bashar Assad and holds a veto power at the Security Council, on Thursday proposed extending by six months the border crossing into Syria in a compromise at the Security Council while other members seek one more year for the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish border, U.N. and diplomatic sources told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
This is the first time Russia has raised the possibility of extending the authorization. The council is expected to vote Friday, and Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters Thursday that “12 months doesn’t fly.” Previously, Moscow had wanted to stop cross-border aid, maintaining that continuing to provide it without Damascus' approval violated Syria's sovereignty.
Norway and Ireland have put their draft resolution up for a vote that would authorize a one-year extension of deliveries through Bab al-Hawa to Syria's Idlib region. They say a year's extension is essential to ensure the flow of aid, while six months would require another vote in January and could potentially leave millions of Syrians without aid in the middle of winter.
In Washington, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. wanted a full year's extension. "We've been very clear that continuing cross-border access, it's a humanitarian imperative, and it's a humanitarian imperative because millions of lives are on the line," Price told reporters.
"We've heard very clearly from U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) around the world that 12 months is critical to their work to reliably deliver aid while managing the lengthy procurement process," Price said.
"What we find before us in the coming days is an opportunity for the Security Council, and more broadly the international community, to stand up and show that it is on the side of the beleaguered and food-insecure Syrian people."
The Security Council approved four border crossings when aid deliveries began in 2014, three years after the start of the Syrian conflict. But in January 2020, Russia used its veto threat in the Security Council first to limit aid deliveries to two border crossings in the northwest, and then last July to cut the crossings to just Bab al-Hawa.
Ireland and Norway initially proposed to also reopen the al-Yaroubiya border crossing from Iraq to Syria’s northeast. But last week, Nebenzia called that idea “a non-starter,” so Norway and Ireland revised their proposal to just keeping the Bab al-Hawa crossing open.
Acting U.N. humanitarian chief Ramesh Rajasingham told the Security Council in late June that a failure to extend the mandate for Bab al-Hawa “would disrupt lifesaving aid to 3.4 million people in need across the northwest, millions of whom are among the most vulnerable in Syria.”
On Friday, the Security Council must technically vote on the Western resolution first before voting on Russia's. A similar scenario occurred at the end of 2019, and Russia – along with China – had vetoed the Western draft.
"Let the games begin," another diplomat told AFP, also speaking anonymously after the two drafts were announced. Until the vote, negotiations may still take place between Security Council members in order to reach a consensus on a single text.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Russia has used its veto 16 times on related resolutions, and China 10 times.
A top European Union official warned Thursday that the potential closure of the only remaining border crossing through which humanitarian aid can enter parts of Syria would have “dramatic" consequences for millions of civilians.
In an interview with The Associated Press (AP), Janez Lenarcic, the EU commissioner for crisis management, urged the U.N. Security Council to vote to extend humanitarian access into Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and northern Syria.
He made the comments following a visit to Bab al-Hawa.
“We are still very much hoping that the cross-border resolution will be extended before its expiry on Saturday,” Lenarcic said in a Zoom interview from the Turkish border province of Hatay. Lenarcic said the EU would support humanitarian assistance coming from regime-controlled parts of Syria but insisted there are “no viable alternatives” to Bab al-Hawa.
“This certainly would not be able to replace entirely the huge operation that is now taking place across borders from Turkey to north northwest Syria,” he said. “This is a huge operation. There are roughly 1,000 trucks sent (across the) border every month."He also admired the Turkish authorities for "supporting this operation in every way necessary."
"And this Turkish support for this operation comes in addition to the generosity that Turkey displayed in hosting millions of refugees from Syria and other places," he added, praising the generosity of Hatay province, which hosts the largest proportions of Syrian refugees.
Mark Cutts, the U.N.’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said the needs in the enclave are far greater than in 2014 when the Security Council first authorized the cross-border aid.
“We’ve got a million people displaced last year. There is a severe economic crisis in the country. There is COVID-19. So, the needs have gone up,” Cutts told AP. “This is a very vulnerable population. These are civilians trapped in a war zone.”
The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, said half a million children suffer from stunting as a result of chronic malnutrition. A dire economic crisis in Syria, rooted in corruption, years of conflict and increasing sanctions against the regime in Damascus, has made living conditions even more desperate. In the past year alone, prices of food staples have increased by 200%.
The health sector and its infrastructure are particularly in shambles. More than half of the health workers have left the country. Hospitals and medical facilities in opposition areas had been targeted by regime forces and their allies. Despite a cease-fire deal in 2020, military operations have not stopped.
Cutts said nothing can replace the current U.N-led aid operation into the northwestern enclave. The U.N. directly provides 70% of all food aid, 100% of COVID-19 vaccines and all relief assistance.
In Syria, the head of the White Helmets organization accused Russia of using humanitarian assistance as a “bargaining chip."
Dr. Salem Abdan, the Idlib health director, said: "We already lack medicines and with COVID-19 on the increase, any hesitation will cost lives. We need COVID-19 vaccinations and urgent care to stop diseases spreading. Stop political bargaining with people’s lives.”
So far, the opposition enclave that includes parts of Idlib and Aleppo provinces, has only received 53,800 U.N.-secured vaccine jabs delivered through Turkey in April.
Inas Hamam, communication officer of the World Health Organization (WHO), said the U.N. is counting on the Bab al-Hawa crossing to deliver the next batch of vaccines – over 52,800 jabs, by mid-August. She told AP that WHO has pre-positioned health supplies, such as protective equipment and surgical kits, to respond to the next four to six months in case of a possible closure to mitigate the short-term impact.
But these supplies could be depleted quickly in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak or a military operation, she said.
“Ending cross-border aid would be tantamount to a death sentence for many of the millions of people in northern Syria dependent on humanitarian assistance,” said Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement this week. “Russia should allow reauthorization of all previously approved crossing points for the north. Claims that the Syrian regime is ready and willing to facilitate aid ring hollow, since it has long obstructed, not enabled, aid distribution.”
HRW added that the Syrian regime “has long obstructed what is known as ‘cross-line' aid, supplies crossing from regime-held parts of the country into opposition-held parts of Syria. Russia has been unable or unwilling to press Damascus to allow aid to reach the northwest and to increase aid to the northeast.”
Charbonneau underlined that a regime “that has spent the last decade killing tens of thousands of its own citizens and undermining humanitarian aid operations can’t be relied upon to provide aid to those same people.”
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.