Damascus conditions for cross-border aid unacceptable, UN says

Global organisation expresses concern over Al Assad government rules for continuing humanitarian deliveries

Workers unload bags of aid at a warehouse near the Syrian Bab Al Hawa border crossing with Turkey. AFP
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The UN has criticised the “unacceptable conditions” set by Syria to allow aid to flow through its Bab Al Hawa crossing to rebel-held areas in north-west Syria after a security council vote failed to keep the crossing open.

A letter from Syrian authorities allowing use of the border crossing between Turkey and Syria “contains two unacceptable conditions”, said a document sent to the UN Security Council from the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

OCHA said it was concerned that the Syrian government had “stressed that the UN should not communicate with entities designated as terrorist”.

It said such engagement is “indispensable for gaining safe and timely access to civilians in need and is consistent with international humanitarian law”.

The second condition it bridled at was that the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent should “supervise and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid” in north-west Syria.

“The UN will need to engage to clarify any additional modalities for the delivery of humanitarian aid in north-west Syria,” OCHA wrote.

“Any such modalities must not infringe on the impartiality (based on needs alone), neutrality, and independence of the UN's humanitarian operations.”

Syria announced on Thursday that it would authorise the UN to use Bab Al Hawa to deliver vital humanitarian aid to millions of people in rebel-held areas for six months.

That announcement followed the expiration on Monday of the mandate of a mechanism that has allowed UN convoys since 2014 to use the crossing to rebel areas without authorisation from Damascus.

The 15-member council failed to reach an agreement on Tuesday to renew the mandate for the operation after Russia vetoed a proposed nine-month extension.

An alternative Russian proposal to renew the mandate under different conditions also failed, leaving the delivery of aid through the crossing uncertain.

Experts told The National on Friday that Russia's veto had effectively handed Syrian President Bashar Al Assad control over the four million people in the north-west territory.

The area was hit hard by an earthquake in February which killed 8,000 people in Syria and more than 45,000 in Turkey.

Updated: July 15, 2023, 5:30 AM