UN draft resolution contemplates increased border crossings in Syria

A draft UN Security Council resolution circulated by Norway and Ireland contemplates authorizing the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid to war-torn Syria across the borders of Turkey and Ireland. Iraq. However, Russia, a close ally of Syria, holds the key to its passage, as the current resolution will expire in early July.

Russia has come under intense pressure from the UN, the United States and others who warn of the dire humanitarian consequences for more than a million Syrians if all border crossings are closed. Russia has said aid should be channeled across conflict lines in Syria to strengthen the sovereignty of Bashar Assad’s regime over the whole country.

The Security Council approved four border crossings when deliveries began in 2014, three years after the start of the Syrian conflict. But in January 2020, Russia used its veto threat in the Council to limit aid deliveries to two border posts, and in July 2020, its veto threat cut off another. Thus, today, aid can only be channeled through the Bab al-Hawa crossing between Turkey and northwestern Syria, held by the opposition, and its mandate ends on July 10.

The draft resolution circulated by Norway and Ireland and obtained by the Associated Press (AP) would maintain the Bab al-Hawa crossing and restore aid deliveries through the Al-Yaroubiya crossing point from the Iraq in the northeast which was closed in January 2020. It will also end the six-month mandate that Russia has insisted on and reinstate a one-year mandate.

Turkey, meanwhile, urged last week to keep the Cilvegözü (Bab al-Hawa) gate – the only border post used for aid deliveries – open for a further 12 months, with Russia announcing its intention to to close it.

Security Council experts are expected to discuss the proposed resolution early next week.

The one-page draft resolution states that “the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria continues to pose a threat to peace and security in the region”.

Former UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, who has just resigned, told the council last month that channeling aid across conflict lines cannot replace cross-border deliveries and called the Bab al-Hawa’s cross-border “lifeline” operation.

If not reauthorized, he warned, monthly food deliveries for 1.4 million people, millions of medical treatments, nutrition for tens of thousands of children and mothers and supplies schools for tens of thousands of students will cease.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who recently visited the Bab al-Hawa terminal, expressed disappointment that the resolution “does not reach” the three posts that the United States United seek to restore. She said a second passage from Turkey to the northwest at Bab al-Salam, closed in July 2020, should also be re-established.

Since then, she said, not a single cross-border convoy has reached the northwestern province of Idlib in the opposition-controlled region. Noting that since the closure of Al-Yaroubiya, “needs have increased by 38% in northeastern Syria”.

“Millions of Syrians are struggling, and without urgent action millions more will be deprived of food, clean water, medicine and COVID-19 vaccines,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “The situation is devastating and will only get worse if we don’t act.

David Miliband, chairman and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, welcomed efforts to continue aid to the northwest and restore deliveries to the northeast, but also expressed concern about the makes the resolution not also seek to restore deliveries through Bab al-Salam. He called the crossing from Turkey a “direct gateway” to northern Aleppo, home to 800,000 displaced people.

“Violence and insecurity have already forced Bab al-Hawa (…) to close, compromising the timely delivery of aid to millions of Syrians,” he said, calling on the Council. security to “maximize the number of crossing points and access to assistance”. , emergency.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the northwest’s most powerful militant group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, of blocking cross-section humanitarian convoys.

Lavrov accused Western donors, who are Syria’s biggest providers of humanitarian aid, of “blackmail” by threatening to cut humanitarian funding for Syria if Bab al-Hawa’s tenure is not extended.

“We consider it important to resist such approaches,” he said in a recent statement sent to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and obtained Tuesday by AP.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia insisted on Wednesday that aid can and should be channeled across conflict lines in Syria and accused the UN and the West of doing nothing to promote such deliveries over the past year.

Opponents say the Assad regime has not shied away from using famine and the siege of civilians as a weapon in the war, and fear a destabilizing wave of refugees to neighboring Turkey if the crossing closed.

Unless Western nations “both in word and deed prove their commitment to this goal,” he warned that there was no point in talking about renewing the mandate of the last border crossing between Turkey and the north. -West from Idlib to Bab al-Hawa.

“We still have time before ‘D-Day’. Hopefully this will not be wasted, ”said Nebenzia.

Civilians facing famine

Civilians who have taken refuge in camps on the Turkish border with Idlib are at risk of starving to death.

The Idlib de-escalation zone was forged as part of a deal between Turkey and Russia. The region has been the subject of multiple ceasefire agreements, which have been frequently violated by the Assad regime and its allies. More recently, a fragile truce was negotiated between Moscow and Ankara in March 2020 in response to months of fighting by the Russian-backed regime. Almost a million people have fled the offensive of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but the regime still carries out frequent attacks against civilians, preventing most from returning to their homes and forcing them to stay in makeshift camps.

For years, the Assad regime ignored the needs and security of the Syrian people, eyeing only further territory gains and crushing the opposition. To this end, the regime bombed vital facilities including schools, hospitals and residential areas, displacing nearly half of the country’s population while adopting policies aimed at making their lives more difficult.

Ali Shami, who fled to Atmeh refugee camp near the Turkish border in Idlib four years ago due to forced evacuations in the eastern Ghouta region of the capital, Damascus, told the ‘Anadolu Agency (AA) that Russia now wants to kill the civilian population by starving them after the attacks.

Stressing that Russia wants to close the border post from which humanitarian aid comes, although not very important, Shami said: “If the border post of Bab al-Hawa, which is a respite for the inhabitants of the region like the regime of Bashar Assad does not, exist, is closed, millions of civilians will face famine. “

Stating that the UN should treat civilians and the oppressed fairly, Shami said, “Russia wants to starve the Muslim community.

Ahmet Abu Ratib, who was forcibly displaced from Eastern Ghouta after six years of the regime’s blockade and took refuge in the same camp, said the last humanitarian aid door through which civilians could breathe should not be closed.

Noting that civilians living in tents received food and medicine from the Bab al-Hawa border post, Abu Ratib said that “the civilians were sentenced to live in tents. Who wants to live on top of the mountain in dust, dirt, among snakes and scorpion? “

Emphasizing that they are struggling to survive in difficult living conditions in tents, Abu Ratib said: “Russia wants to starve our children by closing the doors of humanitarian aid, as if it is not enough to kill them with attacks from warplanes.

Khalid Abu Muhammed, who was forcibly displaced and moved to the camp, said: “Russia has left children orphaned because of the attacks. They forcibly displaced civilians from their homes. Now they covet a bite of bread that will come from the border gate of Baba al-Hawa. “

He called on the UN not to leave civilians living in tents alone and not to close the last door to humanitarian aid.

Declaring that Russia is using all of its veto rights against the Syrian people, Abu Mohammed said: “Russia has devastated the people. She destroyed our homes. Our children have become orphans. They want to close the door to humanitarian aid that comes to children with milk, food and medicine. “

Noting that civilians living in tents are struggling to find work, Abu Mohammed said that “the UN must take action to find a breadcrumbs for those who are struggling to survive.”

“Overall, levels of food insecurity in Syria are the worst since the start of the conflict,” World Food Program spokesperson in Geneva, Tomson Phiri, told a UN briefing on Friday. .

Today, an estimated 12.4 million Syrians are food insecure, nearly 60% of the population who do not know what they will eat tomorrow, he said, adding that he This is an increase of 4.5 million people in just one year.

The war in Syria has devastated the country’s economy since 2011, pushing around 90% of its population into poverty, UN says

“Millions of lives at stake”

While concerns about the closure of the last border post to Syria remain, Médecins sans frontières (MSF) also called on the United Nations Security Council to renew the resolution in a recently released report.

“As one of the few remaining medical organizations in the region, MSF would face increased challenges in reaching the most vulnerable people in northwestern Syria,” he said.

MSF explained that most hospitals and health facilities would lack the medical supplies needed to operate and that the lives of patients would be in danger. “In addition, the COVID-19 response and vaccination campaign in the region is also at risk of being compromised by the closure of the last remaining border crossing point, including the flow of personal protective equipment (PPE), bottles of oxygen, respirators, essential drugs and COVID. -19 vaccines.

“After a decade of war, the renewal of the Security Council resolution is now more critical than ever,” said Faisal Omar, head of the MSF mission in Syria. “The lives of millions of people, the majority of whom are women and children, depend on it. “

“We will not be able to fill the void if UN agencies and other organizations sharply reduce their aid to northwestern Syria,” Omar added.

In addition, MSF’s field coordinator for Syria, Abdulrahman M., stressed that “if this lifeline were cut, we would face many forms of death”.

“If the medical supply stops, we could lose our ability to treat patients because our current stock can only last three months,” Abdulrahman said. “And if the supply of food and clean water were to stop, disease and epidemics would affect the displaced and local people. Some people in this region have been displaced more than 14 times and are completely dependent on humanitarian aid.

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