UN aid to Syria hangs in the balance pending Russian decision

Russia seeks and pushes to limit UN cross-border aid to millions in Syria. The move comes after a recent veto by China and Russia on a year long extension for the cross-border aid to Syria. Russia pushed forward a motion to limit the aid time frame to 6 months as well as the current crossing points, but the motion was vetoed. The decision for cross-border aid will be finalized on Friday.

Russia aid to Syria

Displaced Syrians relying on humanitarian assistance voiced alarm after regime ally Russia tried to reduce cross-border aid to millions in the northwest of the war-torn country. Russia’s aid to Syria is paramount, especially in the present situation brought on by COVID-19.

The Russian motion at the UN Security Council was voted down, but a council resolution authorising aid deliveries through the Turkish border expires Friday.

Russia pushes to limit aid

In a displacement camp in the last major opposition bastion of Idlib, father-of-four Abu Salem said living without aid was unthinkable for many who had lost their homes in the nine-year war.

“Why would they cut it off?” said the 48-year-old, in a tent near the town of Maaret Misrin in Idlib province.

“There are people in need. They’ve left their homes and everything in the world to come and live in a plastic tent without even a fan.”

An estimated 2.8 million people depend on aid in northwest Syria, the United Nations says, including in Idlib.

The aid has so far come through two crossing points on the Turkish border: Bab al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.

Russia and China on Tuesday vetoed a one-year extension of the deliveries.

Moscow instead sought to abolish the first crossing and put a time limit of six months on the second, but that proposal was voted down on Wednesday.

Ibrahim Husrum, 24, said he was not surprised by Russia’s latest veto after years of Russian war planes backing the Damascus regime against rebels and jihadists, including in Idlib.

“The Russians displaced us from our homes, bombarded us, and killed us,” said the father of two young boys.

“Now they’ve moved on to the aid we receive,” he said.

Read more: Russia Tells Rebels To Withdraw From Aleppo

Amnesty International’s Sherine Tadros said it was “impossible to overstate the importance of ensuring the crossing points, delivering vital aid, stay open”.

“For millions of Syrians, it is the difference between having food to eat and starving,” she said.

Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since first starting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

Future of cross-border aid in the region depends on Russia

The UN will announce Friday the  results of a vote on a resolution to prolong cross-border humanitarian aid to war-torn Syria, the authorization for which expires that evening.

It is unclear whether Russia, which vetoed a previous draft just three days prior, will once more block aid to Syria.

Read more: US accuses Russia of lying on Syria attack to undermine truce

Stopping cross-border aid would be “a devastating blow to the millions of Syrian families who rely on this aid for clean water, food, health care and shelter,” warned the NGO Oxfam.

Russia and China on Tuesday vetoed a draft resolution by Germany and Belgium providing for a one-year extension of the cross-border authorization and the maintenance of two crossing points on the Turkish border — at Bab al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.

The UN authorization allows the body to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without needing permission from Damascus.

Russia and China argue that the UN authorization violates Syria’s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channeled through Syrian authorities.

In January, Moscow, Syria’s closest ally, succeeded in having the crossing points reduced from four to two and in limiting the authorization to six months instead of a year, as had been done previously.

Read more: Russia, Turkey, Iran renew push for new Syrian constitution

Russia, which claims to want continued aid for the insurgent Idlib region, submitted a counter-proposal to the UN Security Council Wednesday to keep only the Bab al-Hawa access point open for six months.

But the bid failed when put to the vote. Russia needed nine votes and no veto from a permanent member of the Council to get its resolution passed — but received only three votes in addition to its own.

Germany and Belgium, two non-permanent Council members that are responsible for the humanitarian aspect of the UN’s Syria dossier, presented a new draft that was put to the vote Thursday.

The results will be known by midday on Friday.

Concessions to Moscow from UNSC

In the only concession to Moscow, the new draft asks for just a six-month extension of cross-border aid authorization, instead of one year. But Germany and Belgium have kept both border crossings open.

For Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, it is necessary to “reach the maximum amount of Syrians that are in need of humanitarian aid.”

When asked if the issue was a “red line” during an interview Wednesday, she replied, “Yes, absolutely.”

According to Craft, keeping only one border crossing open would cut off 1.3 million people living north of Aleppo from humanitarian aid.

Read more: Syria bleeds again: US tries to block Russian advance in war-torn country

On Thursday, several diplomats did not venture a guess on how Russia would vote.

“No idea,” said one, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Moscow could be inflexible by going back to its initial position — a six-month extension and two access points — in negotiations before hardening its stance, said a second diplomat.

A third diplomat, speaking anonymously like the other two, said that another Russian veto could happen, but that it was also possible that the text would only barely pass the vote.

For the UN, keeping as many entry points open is crucial, particularly given the risk of the coronavirus pandemic, which is spreading in the region.

Read more: Turkey retaliates: destroys Syrian warfare facilities

In a report in June, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a one-year extension of the aid to include the two current access points.

When asked Thursday if the UN would be satisfied with a single entry point into Syria, body spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, “We need more aid to go through the border. We do not need less to go through.”

AFP with additional input from GVS News Desk

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