UN failure to renew Bab Al Hawa aid crossing 'gives Assad control over four million lives'

Russia's veto at UN Security Council hands power to Syrian regime, say experts and officials

United Nations aid convoys entered Syria through the Bab Al Hawa border crossing with Turkey, but the crossing was closed this week. AFP
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The UN's failure to renew the opening of an aid crossing into Syria’s north-west has handed President Bashar Al Assad control over the lives of four million people, experts and officials told The National on Friday.

This week Russia vetoed a resolution that would have extended the UN operation through the Bab Al Hawa crossing with Turkey for nine months. A rival Russian resolution for a renewal of just six months but adding new requirements also failed.

But Damascus on Thursday said the UN could use the crossing to continue delivering aid for another six months.

“Russia's use of its veto to close the last border crossing for UN aid into north-west Syria has handed control of this lifeline to a leader who can close it on a whim,” said Barbara Woodward, Britain’s permanent representative to the UN.

“The priority must be getting aid through Bab Al Hawa fast to those who need it, then getting certainty over its future,” Ms Woodward said.

Syria's UN ambassador Bassam Sabbagh wrote in a letter on Thursday to the Security Council that UN aid deliveries would have to be “in full co-operation and co-ordination with the Syrian government”.

The Security Council approval for the Turkish-based aid operation delivering help to several million people in rebel-held north-west Syria expired on Monday.

“A Security Council resolution is urgently needed to establish a safe and secure framework for cross-border operations,” said Germany’s envoy to Syria, Stefan Schneck.

Mr Schneck called on “Russia to stop blocking much-needed help”.

“We expect all parties to fully adhere to the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and depoliticisation,” he said.

'Beware of Assad bearing gifts'

Bente Scheller, head of the Middle East division at the Heinrich Boell Foundation, said the international community must “beware of Assad bearing gifts” as Syria could now take control of the north's lifeline.

“The regime’s offer to allow cross-border aid through Bab Al Hawa is the typical move that could be expected – a gesture to give the impression it was behaving in a constructive manner and supporting humanitarian aid while, on the contrary, it is taking control over Idlib’s lifeline,” Ms Scheller said.

If world powers follow Mr Assad’s suggestion, “they accept the regime as the sovereign and give him power over citizens, even outside regime territories,” she said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the letter from Syria had been received and the UN was studying it.

Security Council authorisation for use of the crossing over the last nine years was needed because the Syrian government did not agree to the UN operation.

It initially authorised aid deliveries in 2014 into opposition-held areas of Syria from Iraq, Jordan and two points in Turkey, but Russia and China whittled that down to one from Turkey.

Damascus and Moscow have previously said the operation violates Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity and that more aid should be delivered from inside the country.

More than four 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.

Updated: July 14, 2023, 9:54 AM