Syria agrees to allow aid delivery through two more border crossings, UN says

Crossing points Bab Al Salam and Al Ra’ee from Turkey to north-west Syria will reopen to ensure 'timely delivery of humanitarian aid'

A child, injured in the earthquake, is treated at the hospital in Bab al-Hawah, Syria, on the border crossing with Turkey, Sunday, Feb.  12, 2023.  Six days after a massive earthquake killed thousands in Syria and Turkey, sorrow and disbelief are turning to anger and tension over a sense that there has been an ineffective, unfair and disproportionate response to the historic disaster.  (AP Photo / Hussein Malla)
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Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has agreed to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid through two more border crossings from Turkey for an initial period of three months without any preconditions, the UN said in a statement on Monday.

In addition to the Bab Al Hawa border crossing, the crossing points Bab Al Salam and Al Ra’ee from Turkey to north-west Syria will reopen to ensure the “timely delivery of humanitarian aid”.

After briefing the Security Council behind closed doors, Turkey's ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu told The National that his country is “ready to open” the borders.

Syria’s UN ambassador, Bassam Sabbagh, confirmed the agreement and expressed his country’s commitment to delivering humanitarian aid for the next three months to Syrians, “wherever they are on the Syrian soil.”

He told reporters that a Security Council resolution was not needed because it’s a “sovereign decision,” an agreement between Syria and the UN.

For Damascus, it may be a “relief to let foreign donors and the UN carry the burden of aiding Idlib,” Richard Gowan UN director at the International Crisis Group told The National.

"Syria will also be happy to have sorted this out bilaterally with the UN, meaning that the Security Council does not have any formal power over the additional crossings, unlike Bab Al Hawa," he added.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the decision, saying “opening these crossing points — along with facilitating humanitarian access, accelerating visa approvals and easing travel between hubs — will allow more aid to go in, faster”.

“As the toll of the February 6 earthquake continues to mount, delivering food, health, nutrition, protection, shelter, winter supplies and other life-saving supplies to all the millions of people affected is of the utmost urgency,” said Mr Guterres.

The UN has been under mounting pressure to find new ways to override political pressure and establish more border crossings from Turkey into Syria, as humanitarian concerns mount.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey on February 5 has so far killed more than 35,000 people.

According to the White Helmets, the death toll in opposition-held north-west Syria has reached 2,274.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, who this weekend visited Turkey and Syria, said on Sunday on Twitter: “We have so far failed the people in north-west Syria.

“They rightly feel abandoned.”

He added that it was the international community's obligation “to correct this failure as fast as we can”.

The Security Council authorised a cross-border aid mechanism in July 2014 three years after the Syrian civil war began. It approved four crossings: two from Turkey, one from Jordan and one from Iraq.

Why has it taken so long to get aid to north-west Syria? — video

Why has it taken so long to get aid to north-west Syria?

Why has it taken so long to get aid to north-west Syria?

The resolution meant the UN and its partners could deliver humanitarian aid across Syria’s border without permission from Damascus, whose protracted conflict with opposition forces in the north-west has mostly cut the area off from international aid.

Until now, the Security Council has failed to keep all but one border crossing open to the flow of aid due to the Assad regime's ally Russia vetoing most efforts.

But last week, Syrian opposition groups announced that, for the first time in years, they had secured Turkey's approval to use corridors at Bab Al Salam as well as Al Ra’ee to funnel aid into the territory.

In the aftermath of the closed Security Council's meeting on Monday to discuss ways to boost humanitarian assistance to Syria, France’s UN ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said the two additional crossing points should work in a "transparent and sustainable manner because this is an agreement for three months", adding if it doesn't work then "I think the Security Council should get back to work" and look into a resolution that includes "Chapter 7 measures".

Chapter 7 of the UN Charter allows the council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression”, to make recommendations or to resort to non-military or military action to “maintain or restore international peace and security”.

Switzerland and Brazil, the two countries that oversee the UN's Syria file, urged all parties to "facilitate passage of relief efforts and assistance to reach all those in need."

Regarding Monday's announcement on the opening of the crossing points from Turkey to north-west Syria, Charles Lister, the director of the Syria programme at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told The National, the UN has dramatically underplayed its hand and given the Syrian regime “the chance to look more powerful than it is.”

“The UN and international community writ-large already had a legal ability to utilize the Bab Al Salam and Al Ra’ee crossings — international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions give all the necessary cover to do so — particularly in emergency circumstances,” said Mr Lister.

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Updated: February 14, 2023, 1:42 AM