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19 June


Russia and China veto UN extension of cross-border aid in war-torn Syria

UN has delivered vital relief to Syria since 2014 via border crossings that are not controlled by the Syrian government

Photo: Xinhua

/NOVOSTIVL/ Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution Tuesday that would maintain two border crossing points from Turkey to deliver humanitarian aid to Syria’s mainly rebel-held northwest for a year, which the United Nations says is crucial to save millions of lives.

Russia, Syria’s close ally, immediately circulated a draft Security Council resolution that would authorise the delivery of aid through a single crossing point from Turkey for six months.

Germany’s UN Ambassador Chistoph Heusgen, the current council president, announced the 13-2 result of the vote at a virtual meeting which saw the United States attack Russia and China over their vetoes.

“We’re ashamed by what this council has to do right now because of the cynical attempts of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China to put politics above the lives of the Syrian people,” US envoy Rodney Hunter said.

China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun blamed unilateral sanctions against Syria, which have been imposed by the US and the European Union, for exacerbating the country’s humanitarian situation and urged that they be lifted. He also rejected the US heaping “blame” on China, saying “it’s once again demonstrating the hypocritical approach adopted by this country while they are imposing unilateral sanctions”.

Hunter retorted that US sanctions have humanitarian exemptions “and they in no way harm the people of Syria”.

“The only thing that’s harming the people of Syria and preventing them from getting the assistance that they need is the Assad regime being helped out by the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation,” he said.

Tuesday’s vote was the 15th time that Russia has used its veto since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, and the ninth for China.

The defeated resolution, drafted by Germany and Belgium, had dropped a call for the reopening of an Iraqi crossing to the northeast to deliver medical supplies for the Covid-19 pandemic. In May, Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “Do not waste your time on efforts to reopen the closed cross-border points”.

Russia has argued that aid should be delivered from within Syria across conflict-lines. But UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has insisted that the two crossings from Turkey to the northwest remain “a lifeline for millions of civilians whom the UN cannot reach by other means”.

In January, Russia scored a victory for Syria, using its veto threat to force the Security Council to adopt a resolution reducing the number of crossing points for aid deliveries from four to just two, from Turkey to the northwest. It also cut in half the year-long mandate that had been in place since cross-border deliveries began in 2014 to six months, as Russia insisted.

The draft resolution which the 15 council members voted on by email because of the Covid-19 pandemic would have extended the mandate for the two border crossings from Turkey to the northwest- Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa – for a year.

The Russian-drafted resolution would only authorise cross-border deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

Nebenzia assured the council that if its resolution was adopted, cross-border aid deliveries would continue.

China’s Zhang echoed the hope that “we will find a way out and narrow our differences”.

UN humanitarian chief Lowcock told the council on June 29 that “an estimated 2.8 million people in the northwest – 70 per cent of the region’s population – require humanitarian assistance”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ latest report to the Security Council circulated Tuesday said cross-border operations in the northwest “continued at record levels in response to the catastrophic deterioration of the humanitarian situation that occurred when almost 1 million civilians were displaced between December 2019 and March 2020”.

The UN chief said the UN World Food Programme delivered food to 1.3 million people in April and more than 1.3 million in May through the two border crossings, and the UN World Health Organisation delivered over 420,000 emergency health kits and essential medicines to the northwest in May.

“The cross border crossings are vital to the well being of the civilians in north west Syria. And we very much hope that these will be extended,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday. “Lives depend on it.” Kurdish fighters, who allied with the US-led coalition in fighting to defeat Islamic State militants, control most of oil-rich northeast Syria. But Turkey invaded areas along its borders and now controls sliver of lands there. Tensions have persisted between Turkish-allied fighters and Kurdish groups, which Ankara considers terrorists. There are also hundreds of US troops still stationed in northeast Syria.