UN restarts Syria cross-border aid but with only one access point
The UN security council passed a resolution to restart cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria on Saturday after caving to Russian pressure to close one of two access points into the war-torn country.
After a week of division and seven ballots, the council passed a German and Belgian proposal allowing the Bab al-Hawa crossing point on Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey to be used until 10 July 2021.
Twelve of 15 members voted to pass the resolution. Russia, China and the Dominican Republic abstained, diplomats said.
Authorisation for the continued transport of aid to Syria, a system in place since 2014, expired on Friday night after Moscow and Beijing used their veto power and the council rejected a counterproposal from Russia.
This will allow badly needed humanitarian aid to continue flowing to several million Syrians living in the insurgent region of Idlib, which the Syrian regime does not control.
For weeks, Russia – Syria’s most important ally – has been demanding an end to using the Bab al-Salam border crossing, which leads to the Aleppo region in northern Syria.
European countries and the United States had wanted to maintain both crossing points.
The vote is a notable failure for the US whose ambassador had called the maintenance of two border crossings a “red line”.
UN authorisation allows the international body to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without Damascus’s permission.
But Russia and China argue that the authorisation violates Syria’s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channeled through Syrian authorities.
Western member states reject Russia’s arguments, saying there is no credible alternative to the cross-border system and that Syrian bureaucracy and politics prevent an effective flow of aid in areas not controlled by the Syrian regime.
Susannah Sirkin, of Physicians for Human Rights, called the UN system “the most viable channel to deliver aid to millions of Syrians in need”.
“Without it, civilians who rely on lifesaving assistance will be at the mercy of the Syrian government,” she said.
The closure of the Bab al-Salam crossing was also a setback for UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, who called in June for a one-year extension of the aid to include the two access points.
In January Moscow succeeded in having the crossing points reduced from four to two and in limiting the authorisation to six months instead of a year.
International humanitarian aid trucks are now allowed to cross into Syria at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. Photograph: EPA