US and Turkey unite to keep aid flowing into Syria

Russia wants to close the Turkey-Syria border to convoys, saying aid should be managed from Damascus

FILE PHOTO: New U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield holds a news conference to mark the start of the U.S. presidency of the U.N. Security Council for March, at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
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The US and Turkey have announced plans to work together to keep aid flowing across the border into Syria, despite moves by Russia in the UN Security Council to shut down humanitarian convoys.

The US envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, met Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman and special adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara on Wednesday.

They discussed extending and expanding a UN Security Council mandate for cross-border aid flows to Syria.

The mandate is set to expire on July 10.

"The officials discussed the importance of the UN Security Council reauthorising and expanding UN cross-border humanitarian access, which delivers life-saving assistance to the Syrian people," US spokeswoman Olivia Dalton said.

Mr Erdogan's office  pointed to looming "humanitarian crises and instabilities" in Idlib in north-western Syria, where UN convoys help millions of Syrians.

"It was stated that obstacles should be removed in order for cross-border humanitarian aid to be delivered through Turkey to Syria via the UN and that joint efforts should be made in this regard," said the Turkish government.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield is visiting Turkey from Wednesday to Friday to push for the continuation of cross-border aid deliveries into Syria before a likely showdown with Russia in the Security Council over renewing the humanitarian mandate.

The 15-nation UN council first authorised cross-border aid operations into Syria in 2014 at four points.

Last year, it reduced that access to one 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, fuel, medicines and other aid should be overseen from the capital Damascus, with some passing across the front lines with rebel forces.

The UN's top humanitarian official Mark Lowcock has called cross-border aid deliveries a "lifeline" for some three million Syrians living in the country's turbulent north, saying that cross-line deliveries run by Damascus are not yet sufficient.

The north-western Idlib region accessed 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.