Cross-border aid to Syrians at risk after Russia casts 14th UN veto on Syria

Orient Net 2019-12-21 08:07:00

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Vital cross-border aid to Syria is under threat after the UN security council was unable to overcome Russian and Chinese objections to the programme.

The aid, which is sent over borders at four UN approved checkpoints and without the formal permission of the Assad regime, is seen as critical as the humanitarian crisis in Idlib and north-east Syria continues to mount.

Throughout the past fortnight, the UN security council has been considering two alternative resolutions on cross-border aid deliveries to Syria.

On Friday (December 20), Russia, backed by China, cast its 14th UN security council veto since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 to block cross-border aid deliveries from Turkey and Iraq to millions of Syrian civilians.

The resolution drafted by Belgium, Kuwait and Germany would have allowed cross-border humanitarian deliveries for another year from two points in Turkey and one in Iraq. But Assad ally Russia only wanted to approve the two Turkish crossings for six months.

The Russia-proposed resolution suggests extending the mechanism of cross-border aid deliveries to Syria, but through only two checkpoints, at Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa, on the Syria-Turkey border. Renewal of the mandate would last only six months, until 10 July 2020.

Russia wants to end crossings at Ramtha on the Jordanian border and at Yaroubiyeh on the border with Iraq.

Western diplomats say the Yaroubiyh crossing is of crucial importance because it allows 40% of the medicines for humanitarian operations to be transported to the north-east. Some diplomats also believe the closure of Yaroubiyeh, which is on the main highway between Syria and northern Iraq, would undercut autonomy in the north-east of the mainly SDF militias and make the US presence in the area harder to maintain.

The area served by Yaroubiyeh includes the high-profile al-Hawl camp, which houses nearly 69,000 people, including imprisoned foreign ISIS militiamen and their families.

The assistant secretary-general of OCHA, the UN humanitarian agency, Ursula Mueller, said the humanitarian position was worse than last year, and reducing in the number of crossings was not justified.

She added: “Without the cross-border operation, we would see an immediate end of aid supporting millions of civilians. That would cause a rapid increase in hunger and disease, resulting in death, suffering and further displacement – including across-borders – for a vulnerable population who have already suffered unspeakable tragedy as a result of almost nine years of conflict.”

US Ambassador Kelly Craft told the council after the Russia and China vetoes that she was in a state of shock, saying the consequences “will be disastrous.” She described Russia and China’s opposition as “reckless, irresponsible and cruel.”

The UK ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, said: If the UN does not help these communities, there is no evidence, no evidence at all to believe that the Assad regime either wants to or can or will provide that assistance.

The International Rescue Committee, alongside a host of other aid agencies, has been urging the security council not to scale back on aid delivery.

In a statement, it said: “In 2014, when this resolution was first adopted, the security council expressed ‘grave alarm’ that the number of people in need of assistance had risen to more than 10 million. At the end of 2019, that number stands at more than 11 million – almost 3 million of whom are only able to receive aid thanks to the cross-border response. The situation inside Syria remains a humanitarian catastrophe. Now is not the time to scale back on humanitarian access.”

Ankara had suggested opening a fifth crossing through Tal Abyad on Syria’s north-eastern border with Turkey.

In an effort to secure Russian support, the draft proposed by Germany, Belgium and Kuwait suggests delivering aid through three as opposed to the current four checkpoints. The Jordanian crossing would be closed under this proposal.

UN diplomats are eager to reach an agreement before Christmas, fearing it will be more difficult to solve the issue close to the deadline of 10 January since in the new year there will be a new UN security council membership.

The decision to introduce cross-border aid deliveries to Syria was first made in July 2014 after the war made it impossible for civilians to access humanitarian aid.

Based on The Guardian, Reuters