UN Security Council votes on aid to Syria as deadline approaches

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The UN Security Council will vote on a third draft resolution authorizing cross-border humanitarian aid access to Syria, just hours before the current aid mechanisms are set to expire.

A resolution passed in January 2020 allows UN aid to enter Syria from two crossings on the Turkish border until July 10. It serves 4.1million people living in opposition-held northwest Syria, including 2.7m displaced people.

But a draft resolution to renew this authorization for another 12 months was vetoed by Russia and China on Tuesday.

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Russia then circulated its own draft resolution, which would re-authorize only one border crossing at Bab Al Hawa, to serve Idlib province. This second draft won only four of the 9 votes required to pass the resolution, from South Africa and Vietnam

A third draft from Belgium and Germany circulated yesterday and will be voted on today at 1pm EST. If passed, the resolution would renew the authorization for the two border crossings for 6 months.

“Millions of people are counting on the Security Council to allow for as much humanitarian access as possible. This Council has a responsibility towards the Syrian people and the humanitarian aid workers who support them,” said the co-penholders in a joint statement.

A vital aid mechanism

UN agencies are required to coordinate aid deliveries with Damascus.

But in 2014, a cross-border mechanism was established to serve opposition-held areas through four crossings from the Turkish, Iraqi and Jordanian borders.

The regime had been co-opting aid money and blocking humanitarian aid access into opposition held-areas. This includes starvation sieges on cities like Madaya, which was blockaded for months without food assistance or humanitarian aid.

This cross-border delivery mechanism, which received $134.7million in contributions in 2019, may be reaching the end of its tenure.

In January 2020, a Russian and Chinese veto forced the closure of two crossings on the Iraqi and Jordanian borders. The Al Ya’rubiah crossing on the Iraqi border feeds into northeast Syria, which is held by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces.

That month, the cross-border mechanism allowed the delivery of food assistance for around 1.4 million people, health supplies for almost half a million people, and non-food items for more than 230,000 people.

Today, additional aid deliveries are needed to support Syrians through an economic crisis and a global pandemic.

“We did not imagine for a moment that our only lifeline could be cut off by the UN Security Council” Omar Al Hiraki, a doctor at Bab Al Hawa Hospital told Al Arabiya English, “It is a disaster.”

Politicizng humanitarian aid

Russia and China have claimed that the cross-border aid mechanism threatens Syria’s sovereignty, with Russia vetoing 15 resolutions on Syria.

They have also blamed the humanitarian crisis in Syria on Western sanctions. Their draft resolution this week requested that the Secretary-General provide a report by the end of August on the “direct and indirect impact of unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria on its socio-economic situation and humanitarian deliveries from outside Syria.”

But critics say the two Security Council members are simply politicizing a humanitarian issue. “It’s a cynical response,” said a diplomat who asked not to be named.

“Russia’s proposal to keep one border-crossing open undermines their position that they are defending Syria’s sovereignty,” said Bassam Barabandi, of the US-based People Demand Change.

Turkish support for humanitarian relief in northwest Syria, and its concerns about the mounting refugee crisis on its borders likely influenced Russia’s resolution to maintain the border-crossing at Bab Al Hawa.

Russia and China may continue to veto any draft resolution on cross-border aid. Yesterday evening, Russia circulated a competing draft resolution, which would re-authorize only a single border crossing for 12 months.

Yet voting results for Russia’s draft resolution this week revealed declining support for its position on Syria. “Member states who normally understood Russia’s position did not support their draft resolution,” said Hazem Rihawi of the American Relief Association for Syria, “These are good steps forward.”

In addition, Russia’s requested amendments to the latest draft resolution that will be voted today, which included the use of a single border crossing and additional wording about the sanctions, were defeated by a vast majority of 13 Council members voting against or abstaining.

This includes abstentions from South Africa and Vietnam who had voted in favour of the Russian proposal the day before.

“Now Russia and China are isolated,” said a source familiar with the deliberations, “And they are using their veto power to obstruct humanitarian aid.”

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