The Syrian government gave a green light Thursday for the United Nations to resume delivering humanitarian aid to Syria’s rebel-held northwest through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey for six months, but said it must be done “in full cooperation and coordination with the government.”
Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bassam Sabbagh, said the U.N. should not communicate “with the terrorist organizations and groups and their affiliated illegal administrative entities in northwestern Syria.” Instead, he said, the U.N. must allow the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to supervise aid distribution in areas controlled by “terrorist organizations.”
Sabbagh made the announcement after delivering letters to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council president with the government’s decision. It followed Tuesday’s failure of the Security Council to renew authorization of aid deliveries through Bab al-Hawa, a U.N. operation that had been vital to helping a region of 4.1 million people.
The main insurgent group in the northwestern province of Idlib is Hayat Tahrir al Sham, whose origins were in al-Qaida.
Many people in Idlib 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 live in tent settlements and have relied on aid that comes through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.
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 has also been using those crossings to deliver aid.
But U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric reiterated after Tuesday’s vote that the secretary-general was trying to reopen Bab al-Hawa, which is closest to Idlib and where 85% of U.N. cross-border aid passed through.
The statement from the Syrian ambassador made clear that his government wants to control aid distribution in Idlib, which had been previously controlled by the U.N. and its humanitarian partners.
Pressed on what “full cooperation and coordination with the government” will mean in practice, Sabbagh said that “I leave these details to the U.N. to explain,” saying the government wants Bab al-Hawa open.
On Tuesday, Syria’s close ally 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. That 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 only 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. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council that if Moscow’s resolution wasn’t accepted it would not approve any compromise.
The Russian draft resolution included language supporting 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 that began in 2011. It also referred to U.S. and European Union sanctions on Syria and asked 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, has reduced the authorized crossings to just Bab al-Hawa from Turkey — and the mandates from a year to six months.
Source: AP News