If humanitarian aid deliveries are only allowed across conflict lines within Syria, Western nations will stop the funding, France warned Russia Thursday as Moscow is expected to block the reauthorization of United Nations-mandated cross-border aid operations into northwestern Syria.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere, the current U.N. Security Council president, told a news conference that Syrians in the opposition-held northwest and northeast need humanitarian assistance which cannot be delivered internally across conflict lines in sufficient quantities under the current situation in the country.
He spoke as the council began negotiations on a draft resolution that would continue the delivery of aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey to Idlib in northwest Syria and reopen the Al-Yaroubiya border crossing from Iraq to Syria’s northeast that was closed in January 2020 at the insistence of Russia, the Bashar Assad regime's closest ally.
The mandate authorizing aid through Bab al-Hawa ends July 10, and Russia has come under intense pressure from the U.N., United States, Europeans and others who warn of dire humanitarian consequences for over a million Syrians if all border crossings are closed.
“In the end facts are facts,” De Riviere said, “and if you close the cross-border mechanism ... the northwest of Syria will suffer a reduction of 50% of humanitarian relief.”
He said “cross-line doesn’t work,” pointing to the Syrian regime’s rejection of 50% of cross-line requests this year.
“As I said repeatedly, 92% of humanitarian relief to Syria is provided by (the) European Union, U.S., Canada, Japan basically,” the French ambassador said. “This is Western money, and nobody should expect this money to be reallocated through cross-line which does not work.”
“This is a hard choice to make, and we hope to be able to continue to finance humanitarian relief in Syria,” he said.
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 council first to limit aid deliveries to two border crossings in the northwest, and then last July to cut another, leaving Bab al-Hawa as the only place for cross-border deliveries.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused Western donors of “blackmailing” Moscow by threatening to cut humanitarian financing for Syria if the mandate for Bab al-Hawa is not extended.
“We consider it is important to resist such approaches,” Lavrov said in a recent oral statement conveyed to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and obtained last week by The Associated Press (AP).
“We believe that further concessions to the Americans and Europeans under the pressure of financial threats will undermine the credibility of the U.N., its charter and the Security Council’s resolutions,” Lavrov said.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia Wednesday called the proposal to reopen the Al-Yaroubiya border crossing from Iraq to the northeast “a non-starter.” He also refused to say whether Russia will allow aid deliveries through Bab al-Hawa to continue or use its veto to block aid going through, which would end cross-border deliveries. “We continue consulting on the issue," he said.
Nebenzia reiterated Russia’s criticism of cross-border aid and said humanitarian assistance should be delivered across conflict lines within Syria to reinforce the Syrian regime’s sovereignty over the entire country.
He reiterated Lavrov’s criticism of the continuous attempts since April 2020 to block a convoy by the U.N., International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent to Idlib from Syria’s capital, Damascus. The Russian minister blamed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the strongest militant group in Idlib, for refusing to allow the cross-line delivery.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who recently visited the Bab al-Hawa crossing, expressed disappointment Friday that the draft resolution did not call for aid deliveries through three crossings, including the second crossing from Turkey to the northwest at Bab al-Salam, which was closed last July.
“Millions of Syrians are struggling, and without urgent action, millions more will be cut off from food, clean water, medicine and COVID-19 vaccines,” she said.
Nebenzia said the Syrian regime wants to close cross-border deliveries, and dismissed claims there is no alternative.
Cross-border aid was approved in 2014 “in special circumstances when there was no access to many parts of Syria,” he said. “But, of course, today it is now an outdated operation and eventually it will be closed,” he said.
Nebenzia said there were predictions of “disaster” when Al-Yaroubiya in the northeast was closed, “but today facts on the ground confirm, and the U.N. says that they have increased humanitarian assistance to the northeast ... through the cooperation with the Syrian government.”
The U.N. and Western nations insist that not enough aid, including medicine and vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, are reaching the northeast.
Syria's internally displaced persons (IDPs) are concerned about Russia's intention to veto the Security Council resolution that would extend the authorization of the mechanism that brings life-saving humanitarian aid into Syria through a single Turkish border crossing for another year.
Millions of civilians fleeing bombardment by the Assad regime and its supporters are worried that the Russian plan to block aid entering the area through Bab al-Hawa, in accordance with UNSC resolutions, may result in starvation.
Bessam Shamali, one of the civilians displaced by the country's ongoing civil war, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that closing the border gate to aid will be disastrous.
"The closing of the gate means the cessation of medication and other aid, which will lead to an immense disaster," Shamali, who had to flee the Lof village in Idlib due to regime attacks, said.
He called on the authorities to keep the border gate open, saying, "The border gate is the only entrance that we get oxygen from. Our food, water, medicine, all come from this gate. If it is closed, the people will end up miserable."
"The Assad regime confiscated all our assets," Ali Davud, another civilian displaced by the Assad regime's and Russia's attacks two years ago, said and added that "the Assad regime confiscated all our assets. And now they are intending to suffocate us as much as they can by closing the Cilvegözü (Bab al-Hawa) border gate to aid."
Another displaced person, Nasser Yahya, said, "I may endure (starvation) for maybe 10 days. But children can't even for an hour, which means mass deaths are on the way."
"What does Russia want from the public? They forced us to migrate, extorted our homes, our assets, our fields. Now, eventually, it wants to shut down the border gate that we breathe through," he lamented.
Dozens of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Syria have made an appeal against the closure of the Bab al-Hawa terminal between Turkey and Syria, the last lifeline for nearly 4 million Syrians.
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