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Cross-border aid is essential to millions of Syrians in Idlib, UN head says

Secretary General of United Nations Antonio Guterres in Brussels, Belgium on 23 June 2021 [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]
Secretary General of United Nations Antonio Guterres in Brussels, Belgium on 23 June 2021 [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]

The Head of the United Nations has reiterated the importance of cross-border aid to north-west Syria as essential for millions of people, as the authorisation to use the last border crossing is set to expire next month.

In a confidential internal report obtained by the news agency AFP, yesterday, the UN's Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said that "Cross-border assistance remains life-saving for millions of people in need in north-west Syria."

The internal report comes as the authorisation for the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey into the north-west Syrian province of Idlib is set to expire on 10 January, less than a month away. The crossing is the last one to remain open for humanitarian aid to enter, following the closure of the other crossings in 2020.

The Bab Al-Hawa crossing was at risk of closing down back in July, but was then allowed to remain operational for a six-month extension after Russia came to an agreement with the United States and other Western nations at the UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting.

As a permanent member of the UNSC, Russia possesses the power to veto a proposal put forward in the meetings, which repeatedly threatens the survival of the border crossing operations and the delivery of aid into the opposition-held north-west of Syria.

READ: The veto on aid for north-west Syria proves the failure of international institutions

Over four million Syrians, most of whom are displaced from the ongoing decade-long civil war, inhabit Idlib and live in camps where they suffer from poor conditions and a lack of essential resources. Humanitarian aid is often their primary means of survival.

If Russia – or China, as another permanent member – uses the veto power to close the last official border crossing, it is predicted that Idlib could experience a further humanitarian crisis, especially in harsh winter conditions. It would also mean that, in order for aid to legally cross into Syria, it would need approval from the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad, which aims to recapture the province.

In the report, however, Guterres also referred to another project for humanitarian aid operations which would cross the front lines of the conflict in order to reach Idlib. "If implemented, this plan will make operations across the front lines more predictable and effective," he wrote.

He expressed his preference for the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, however, saying that "such cross-line convoys, even if deployed regularly, could not replicate the size and scope of the cross-border operation."

READ: Syrians describe closure of Idlib border crossing to aid as 'mass murder'

International OrganisationsMiddle EastNewsSyriaUN
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