Closure of Syrian aid corridor puts millions at risk of hunger, say aid agencies

Official at Bab Al Hawa crossing with Turkey says 'complete and uncontrollable famine' awaits unless it stays open

The last aid deliveries from Turkish territory to Syrians in the rebel-held north-west took place on Friday. Photo: AFP
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A critical aid corridor in northern Syria has closed after the UN Security Council failed to agree on extending it for another year.

Most council members wanted the Bab Al Hawa border crossing with Turkey — a conduit of vital aid for nearly four million Syrians — to remain open for a further 12 months.

Russia said it would not be opposed to maintaining it for six months, but vetoed the year-long extension. A new UN resolution would be needed to keep the crossing open for another six months.

Russia says the deliveries — about 9,000 lorries last year, filled mostly with food aid — violate Syrian sovereignty because they pass through areas held by anti-government rebel groups linked to Al Qaeda.

The last aid deliveries from Turkish territory to Syrians in the rebel-held north-west took place on Friday.

Without an agreement, the aid deliveries stopped two days before Sunday's expiration of the council's one-year mandate.

Mazen Allouche, manager of the crossing's media office, said the closure would be a disaster for people in northern Syria, many of whom have been displaced during the decade-long civil war.

"It's a prelude to a complete and uncontrollable famine," Mr Allouche said. "Refugees will nearly immediately suffer the consequences of this vote.”

Syria is in the grip of rising food prices, not only because of the war in Ukraine — which has pushed global wheat prices — but also because of a prolonged drought that has hit local wheat production.

"Russia pushed us to tents, to hunger, thirst and heat. And now they want to deny us the food aid basket that barely sustains us for half of the month," said Zahra Alrahmoon, a resident of the Ahl Al Tah camp in Idlib province for internally displaced Syrians.

International aid groups urged the Security Council to reach an agreement before Sunday's deadline, warning that the Russian veto would harm millions of people in urgent need of help.

Last month, a joint statement by the UN and international aid agencies operating in Syria said that the closure of the crossing would affect every aspect of life for refugees who are already struggling in harsh conditions.

“Failure to renew the resolution will have dire humanitarian consequences. It will immediately disrupt the UN’s life-saving aid operation, plunging people in north-west Syria into deeper misery and threatening their access to the food, medical care, clean water, shelter and protection from gender-based violence currently offered by UN-backed operations.”

Russia, a close ally of Syria's government, has repeatedly called for increased humanitarian aid deliveries to the north-west from within Syria, across conflict lines.

This would give Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's government more control.

Updated: July 10, 2022, 12:49 PM