UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday failed to renew authorization of the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria’s rebel-held northwest from neighboring Turkey, officially ending a U.N. operation that had been vital to helping a region of 4.1 million people.
The council failed to adopt either of two rival resolutions to authorize further deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, where the latest six-month mandate expired on Monday.
Syrian President Bashar Assad opened two additional crossing points from Turkey at Bab al-Salameh and al-Rai to increase the flow of assistance to victims of the devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that ravaged northwestern Syria and southern Turkey on Feb. 8. He extended their operation for three months in May until Aug. 13, and the United Nations said it will continue to use those crossings to deliver aid.
But U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that 85% of U.N. aid to the northwest went by truck through Bab al-Hawa, which is closest to those in need, and “we’re not going to be able to match that” amount through the two crossings still available. He added that the U.N. had pre-positioned supplies in the region ahead of the vote, so the cutoff of supplies through Bab al-Hawa should not have an immediate effect.
Nonetheless, Bab al-Hawa remains “the center of gravity” for U.N. cross-border deliveries, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “calls on all Security Council members to redouble their efforts to support the continued delivery of cross-border assistance to millions of people in dire need in north-west Syria for the longest possible period,” Dujarric said.
Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib is home to about 4.1 million people, many of whom have been forced from their homes during the 12-year civil war, which has killed nearly a half million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million. Hundreds of thousands of people in Idlib live in tent settlements and rely on aid that comes through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.
The earthquake caused more than 4,500 deaths in northwest Syria and about 855,000 people had their homes damaged or destroyed, according to the U.N.
Russia vetoed a compromise resolution drafted by Switzerland and Brazil that would have extended the U.N. operation through Bab al-Hawa for nine months, and which was supported by 13 of the 15 council members, as well as by the secretary-general and humanitarian organizations.
A rival Russian resolution that would have extended the aid deliveries for six months but added new requirements failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes for approval and was only supported by Russia and China. The three other veto-wielding council members — the United States, United Kingdom and France — voted against the resolution and 10 countries abstained.
Switzerland’s U.N. Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl told reporters after the vote that she and her Brazilian counterpart “will get back to work immediately to find a solution.” France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere called on all council members “to demonstrate unity and responsibility and to pursue dialogue to renew this vital mechanism.”
The Bab al-Salameh and al-Rai crossings were not mentioned in either resolution and U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of Russia — which is Syria’s closest ally — said they are still working. He accused the West of carrying out another act in a “show,” and being disingenuous when it claimed that keeping Bab al-Hawa meant “life or death” for millions in Idlib, whom he called “terrorists.”
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Assad reportedly told the U.N. and some council members that he is willing to keep the two crossings open beyond Aug. 13 but he hasn’t made a public commitment. If he doesn’t, she said, “we will bring this to the top of the council’s agenda during our Security Council presidency in August.”
Brazil and Switzerland had originally circulated a draft resolution calling for a 12-month extension of the mandate for the Bab al-Hawa crossing and reduced the time frame to nine months on Monday in an attempted compromise, which failed.
Russia has pushed for more aid to be delivered across front lines within Syria, which would give the Syrian government control over the shipments.
Nebenzia told the Security Council after vetoing the nine-month resolution that the Bab al-Hawa crossing could be salvaged — but only if Russia’s rival six-month resolution was approved. If it wasn’t, he said, Russia would not accept any short extension of the current mandate known as “a technical rollover” and the cross-border mechanism would close down.
Thomas-Greenfield said Russia had acted like a “bully in the playground” in trying to force its version of the delivery authorization.
She said the Russian proposal would not ensure that aid reached people during all of the cold winter months and that the U.S. “could not in good conscience support the text that Russia forced upon the council.”
The Russian draft resolution includes language supporting President Bashar Assad’s government, which has for years delayed U.N.-led negotiations on a new constitution as a key step to elections and ending the conflict which began in 2011, and would extend the mandate for Bab al-Hawa until Jan. 10, 2024, in mid-winter.
It also referred to U.S. and European Union sanctions against Syria, calling for the “non-interference of unilateral sanctions in the humanitarian operations in Syria” and requesting the secretary-general to provide a special report on the impact of these measures in December.
The Security Council initially authorized aid deliveries in 2014 from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan through four crossing points into opposition-held areas in Syria. But over the years, Russia, backed by China, had reduced the authorized crossings to just Bab al-Hawa from Turkey — and the mandates from a year to six months.
International Rescue Committee president, David Miliband, condemned the Russian veto saying that the resolution is critical for millions of Syrians with no viable alternative to meet the growing humanitarian needs in the rebel-held northwest and needs at record levels across Syria.
In Syria, Idlib resident Tarek Abou Abdu, 37, who lost two of his seven children in the earthquake and suffered a broken arm and leg when the building the family lived in collapsed, said he has been jobless and cannot afford to buy his medicine.
He expressed hope a new resolution will extend the mandate for the Bab al-Hawa crossing for six months, warning if aid deliveries stop “May God help us.”
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.
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