Humanitarian groups dismayed over UN aid halt to Syria's north-west

Impasse at Security Council between Russia and western powers resulted in closure of vital border crossing

Lorries carrying aid through the Bab Al Hawa border crossing from Turkey into Syria, which is now closed for humanitarian deliveries. EPA
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Three major independent humanitarian organisations have condemned the UN's failure to continue aid deliveries to north-west Syria, home to several million refugees living outside the control of President Bashar Al Assad.

The Security Council on Tuesday failed approve either of two resolutions that would have kept the main Baba Al Hawa border crossing from Turkey open for UN-supervised aid flows to the area.

Russia's resolution to extend UN authorisation to use the crossing for six months fell short of the nine votes needed from the other 14 members of the council, while a western-supported resolution for a nine-month extension received 13 votes but was vetoed by Moscow.

The UN authorisation for the deliveries, which is necessary because the Syrian government does not agree to them, expired on Monday.

The New York-based International Rescue Committee said that millions of impoverished people in Syria's north-west have been left “with no viable alternative”.

It blamed Moscow for the impasse.

Over the past several years, Russia has tried to secure concessions to the advantage of Mr Al Assad through the UN Security Council, while western countries have resisted his bid to control aid and refused to support his rebuilding efforts.

“We condemn the veto by Russia on the Syria cross-border resolution,” said the group’s head, David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary.

Mr Miliband said Syria remained “a major, acute crisis”, worsened by the earthquake that hit southern Turkey in February, and that the halt in aid came at a time when “Syrian communities in the north-west were already pushed to the brink”.

UN convoys that had been bringing aid to the Idlib region through the Bab Al Hawa crossing for the past nine years stopped on Tuesday, witnesses said.

About 4.5 million people live in the Idlib and Aleppo governorates, most of them refugees who fled other parts of Syria after a peaceful uprising against Mr Al Assad's regime turned into an armed rebellion in 2011.

Care International, another major aid organisation that supports people in Syria, said the halt of UN aid “marks a low point in the [UN Security] Council's humanitarian record since the start of the Syrian conflict”.

“It is extremely difficult to see these events come to pass, knowing the toll it will take on in the population of north-west Syria,” the group said in a statement.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, another contributor to the humanitarian effort in Syria, said the Security Council “has turned the fate of 4 million people in north-west Syria into a political game of chess”.

“The world’s biggest powers have to go back to the table and negotiate an extension immediately,” the group said.

“Shutting down this vital lifeline will have catastrophic consequences.”

Updated: July 12, 2023, 4:13 PM