UN pushes for Syria aid flows amid US-Russia standoff

Russian and American presidents did not settle differences over humanitarian convoys into Syria at Geneva meeting

An internally displaced Syrian woman walks as she holds a bag of humanitarian aid in the opposition-held Idlib, Syria June 9, 2021. Picture taken June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
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The UN on Thursday said it would push for continued aid flows into Syria after this week’s summit between the US and Russian presidents failed to break a deadlock on the issue.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters of the “critical need” to keep open at least one checkpoint on the Turkey-Syria border, as the Security Council mandate for cross-border aid operations expires on July 10.

US President Joe Biden raised the convoys with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at their summit in Geneva on Wednesday, but did not secure a commitment to renew the cross-border UN aid operation, a US official told Reuters.

Answering a question from The National, UN spokesman Mr Dujarric underscored the "critical need to have the Bab Al Hawa crossing open".

“It’s no secret that we have been saying over and over again … of the critical use of that [crossing] to bring aid to millions of Syrians in the area,” he said.

“Ultimately, the decision is one that will be taken in the Security Council chamber.”

The US wants the 15-nation council to increase cross-border aid flows into Syria when the mandate is renewed, over objections from Russia, which says such convoys are no longer necessary.

The UN Security Council first authorised cross-border aid operations into Syria in 2014 at four points. Last year, it reduced that access to one entry point — the Bab Al Hawa gate between Turkey and Idlib — due to opposition from Russia and China over renewing all four.

The US and other council members have pushed to expand cross-border operations. A resolution to extend council approval needs nine votes in favour and no veto from any of the five permanent members – Russia, China, Britain, France and the US.

Russia says cross-border deliveries are no longer necessary and that food, medicines and other aid should be managed from the capital, Damascus, some of it passing across the front lines with rebel forces.

The UN’s top humanitarian Mark Lowcock has called cross-border aid deliveries a “lifeline” to some three million Syrians living in the country’s turbulent north, and that cross-line deliveries run by Damascus are not yet sufficient.

The north-western Idlib region, accessible via Bab Al Hawa, is the last remaining rebel stronghold against President Bashar Al Assad, who has largely regained control of Syria after a decade of civil war that has left the country and its economy in ruins.

Washington’s UN ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has said that the 1,000 aid trucks that deliver food, medicine and other supplies via Bab Al Hawa each month could soon be closed for good.

“Soon, the Security Council will vote on the fate of the last remaining crossing,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

“For countless Syrians, this is a life-or-death vote.”