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Russia proposes six-month cross-border aid renewal for Syria

Published: Updated:

As the UN Security Council prepares to vote Thursday on humanitarian aid deliveries to opposition-held northwest Syria from Turkey, Russia agreed to continue such deliveries but only for six months — not a year, as many UN Security Council members, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and more than 30 nongovernmental groups want.

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Russia proposed amendments to a draft resolution by Ireland and Norway reducing their year-long time frame for deliveries. Council diplomats said consultations were continuing late Wednesday to see if a compromise could be reached.

The Security Council scheduled a vote for Thursday morning. If no compromise appeared, the draft resolution by Ireland and Norway to extend cross-border deliveries for 12 months would be voted on first. If it failed to get nine votes, or was vetoed by Russia, the Russian resolution with a six-month extension would then be put to a vote.

In early July 2020, China and Russia vetoed a UN resolution that would have maintained two border crossing points from Turkey to deliver humanitarian aid to Idlib. Days later, the council authorized the delivery of aid through just one of those crossings, Bab al-Hawa. That one-year mandate was extended for a year on July 9, 2021, and expires this Sunday.

The Russian proposal called for increased efforts to ensure “full, safe and unhindered” deliveries of humanitarian assistance across conflict lines within Syria, according to the Russian draft obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

It also would authorize the establishment of “a special working group” comprising concerned council members, major donors, interested regional parties and representatives of international humanitarian agencies “in order to regularly review and follow-up on the implementation of this resolution.”

Neither of those proposals were in the Ireland-Norway draft resolution.

Northwest Idlib is the last opposition-held bastion in Syria and al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is the strongest insurgent group in the region. The UN said last week that the first 10 years of the Syrian conflict, which started in 2011, killed more than 300,000 civilians -- the highest official estimate of civilian casualties.

In a letter to Security Council ambassadors obtained Wednesday by the AP, former International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo warned that by approving cross-border deliveries to northwest Syria, council members “could find themselves materially supporting a UN-designated terrorist organization.”

He said northwest Syria “is controlled by al-Nusra, a UN designated terrorist organization affiliated with al-Qaeda and currently called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.”

Any support to a “terrorist organization, including humanitarian assistance,” is prohibited by previous UN Security Council resolutions, Ocampo said.

To avoid a “flagrant violation” of its resolutions, he said the Security Council should have the operation monitoring cross-border deliveries confirm that the al-Qaeda-linked groups “are not involved in implementing humanitarian aid” or remove al-Nusra-Hayat Tahrir al-Sham from the “terrorist” list.

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