Syria extends permission for UN aid crossings after deadly earthquake

UN granted extension amid fears of aid disruption, paving the way for continued humanitarian response

The devastation caused by the recent earthquake highlights the urgent need for extended aid access. AFP
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Syria has extended its permission for the UN to use two additional border crossings for earthquake relief efforts for another three months, according to an announcement made by Bassam Sabbagh, Syria's UN ambassador, on Saturday.

In his Twitter statement, Mr Sabbagh said that Syria had decided to prolong the UN's access to the border crossings of Bab Alsalama and Al Ra'i until August 13.

This decision comes after the initial approval granted by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad on February 13, a week after an earthquake that claimed more than 50,000 lives in Turkey and Syria.

The agreement for the UN to use these two border crossings was set to expire on Saturday.

The extension followed a request from the UN on Friday.

Mr Al Assad's initial agreement to open the Bab Al Salama and Al Ra'i crossings in February came after diplomacy from the UAE. This decision allowed aid to be delivered into opposition-held zones in the north-west.

The UN had already been given a Security Council mandate to use the Bab Al Hawa border crossing to deliver aid to millions of people in the north-west since 2014.

The opening of the additional crossings was seen by aid agencies as a significant step in increasing deliveries.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which struck near the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep in February, caused substantial damage and loss of life.

The tremor hit at a time when most people were indoors, making the scale of casualties caused by collapsing structures worse. Images of blocks reduced to rubble or left with gaping holes gave a glimpse of the extent of the suffering.

The earthquake's aftermath has highlighted the critical importance of maintaining humanitarian access into Syria's north-west, a region home to millions of people who rely heavily on the aid delivered through these border crossings after years of civil war.

Despite the extension, Amnesty International said that aid through these crossings would remain legal under international law regardless of whether the extension is granted.

The organisation said the critical nature of UN cross-border relief operations was essential to prevent further suffering of the civilian population in north-west Syria.

The response to the earthquake also underscores the need for continued international co-operation in the face of disaster, with countries such as the UAE, the Netherlands, and Romania stepping in to provide aid and support, aid groups said.

As the region continues to grapple with the aftermath of the quake, the extended access to border crossings for aid distribution will play a crucial role in the recovery process, they said.

Updated: May 13, 2023, 6:04 PM