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UN votes to extend cross-border aid into north-west Syria by another six months

January 10, 2023 at 4:20 pm

The Security Council holds a meeting at the United Nations in New York September 28, 2017 [TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images]

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has unanimously voted to allow cross-border aid to enter north-west Syria via the Turkish border, after months of the usual scepticism of whether Russia would approve the policy.

In yesterday’s vote at the UNSC, Russia surprised many by supporting the resolution to allow the continuation of cross-border aid into Syria’s rebel-held north-western Idlib province, enabling aid deliveries through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing from Turkiye into the province until 10 July.

The resolution – which requires authorisation by the 15-member Council due to Syrian regime authorities not agreeing to the humanitarian operation – encourages efforts to improve aid deliveries across conflict lines, and urges all 193 UN member states to respond to Syria’s “complex humanitarian emergency”, especially “in light of the profound socio-economic and humanitarian impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

It also calls for increased efforts to provide water, sanitation, health, education, electricity services, and shelter for the approximately 4.1 million people living in that region, many of whom were displaced from the Syrian regime’s recapture of their home areas elsewhere in the country.

According to UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, the cross-border humanitarian operations “remain an indispensable lifeline for 4.1 million people in north-west Syria”, and the extension of the cross-border aid authorisation “comes as humanitarian needs have reached the highest levels since the start of the conflict in 2011, with people in Syria grappling with a harsh winter and a cholera outbreak”.

READ: Humanitarian groups warn of ‘catastrophic consequences’ of Turkiye-Syria border closure

Following the vote, Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, called the decision to support the resolution “difficult”, describing Idlib and its surrounding areas as “an enclave that is inundated with terrorists” – a term Damascus and its allies, Moscow and Tehran, use to refer to any opposition figure, group or rebel element.

Nebenzia stressed, however, that Russia’s support for the resolution must not be mistaken as a change in its “principled position” that the cross-border aid from Turkiye is temporary and that it should be replaced by deliveries from territories and organisations controlled by Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

Although the current aid delivery mechanism has been extended for another six months, it remains an issue constantly used by Assad’s allies, such as Russia and China – two of the five permanent members of the UNSC – as leverage against the displaced Syrians, aid organisations and western nations every half a year.

Human rights activists and the humanitarian aid officials, meanwhile, continue to demand a more permanent system enabling aid to reach those in need, which is neither held hostage by the Assad regime’s allies nor dependent on alternative organisations directly aligned with the regime and its rampant corruption through the diversion of aid and the manipulation of the exchange rate.

One solution they propose, at least in the short term, is the re-opening of other border crossings into north-west Syria which were shut down a few years ago by the demands of Moscow and Beijing at the UNSC.

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