UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Monday that it was a “moral necessity” for members to renew an aid operation from Turkey to northwestern Syria that would assist more than 4 million people.
“It is a moral necessity to address the suffering and vulnerability of 4.1 million people in the area who need help and protection,” he said. “Eighty percent of the needy in northwestern Syria are women and children.”
The 15-nation council must decide by July 10 whether to extend the authorization to the United Nations and its humanitarian partners. Humanitarian groups reach 2.4 million Syrians in the non-government-controlled northwest every month with vital assistance through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey.
Russia has been lamenting for some time that it wants to do away with the eight-year-old cross-border mechanism and has turned the annual renewal into a loaded exercise within the council, leaving aid agencies and recipients in a stressful limbo.
Moscow has previously used its veto, or its threat, to reduce the operation from four crossroads to one. It remains to be seen how divisions caused by Moscow’s war in Ukraine could affect the council’s negotiations.
Dwarslyn vs. cross border
Damascus and Moscow want all aid to go through the regime.
“We are absolutely convinced that organizing in coordination with Damascus is possible for all regions of Syria,” Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told the council, adding that once “Bab al-Hawa is closed,” cross-line deliveries could increase.
Hundreds of trucks cross from northwest to northwestern Syria with food for 1.8 million people every month. By comparison, only five cross-line convoys have reached the Northwest this year, each with food for 43,000 people.
China’s envoy also hinted that Beijing might not support an extension.
“A clear timeline must be set for the termination of cross-border delivery and for the transition to the cross-border approach promoted accordingly,” Ambassador Zhang Jun said. “China hopes that the members of the council, through dialogue and consultation, will find a viable solution to the arrangement after the expiry of Resolution 2585.”
Resolution 2585 contains the authorization for the cross-border mechanism and expires on 10 July.
Population on the brink
After more than a decade of war, a pandemic and an economic crisis, 90% of Syrians now live below the poverty line.
“People live on the edge, can no longer cope,” Guterres said.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield visited the Bab al-Hawa crossing earlier this month to assess the situation.
“I have seldom seen such desperation in the eyes of aid workers, who were unsure whether they would be able to continue to provide food, medicine and other critical assistance to those most in need,” she said.
The United Nations has made it clear that it wants the cross-border operation to be renewed for another year. The organization also hopes that cross-line deliveries within Syria can be scaled up.
“While increasing cross-line assistance has been a major achievement, in the current circumstances it is not on the scale needed to replace the massive cross-border response,” the secretary-general said. He added that all aid channels should be kept open.
The heads of six UN humanitarian agencies, including the World Food Program, last week made a joint appeal and called on the council to renew the mandate.
“Our priority and only goal is to provide humanitarian assistance to families who need it in the safest, most direct and effective way, away from political calculations or agendas,” they wrote.
The United Nations says 14.6 million Syrians need humanitarian aid, of which 12 million are food insecure. The organization called for $ 10 billion this year to assist people within the country as well as those who have fled. The UN says nothing less than a permanent ceasefire will end the suffering.
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