Russia says time to stop aid from Turkey to Syria's rebel-held Idlib

Russia says time to stop aid from Turkey to Syria's rebel-held Idlib
Russian deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky made his comments around six weeks before approval for the only UN-authorised aid crossing between Turkey and Syria expires.
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Russia's Dmitry Polyansky accused the West and UN of insufficient efforts to deliver aid from Syrian regime-held Damascus [John Lamparski/Getty-archive]

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador says he sees no reason to continue humanitarian aid deliveries from Turkey to rebel-held Idlib province in Syria, accusing the West and UN of insufficient efforts to deliver aid from Damascus and failing to finance "early recovery projects" to improve life for millions of Syrians.

Dmitry Polyansky told the UN Security Council on Friday that "we are not okay" with preserving the status quo at any cost, and cannot "turn a blind eye to the fact that terrorists from HTS," or Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, "usurp the authority and manipulate humanitarian assistance".

Islamist HTS is the strongest militant group in the rebel-controlled areas of Idlib in Syria's northwest.

Polyansky said supporters of cross-border aid deliveries "show no wish" to enable aid deliveries across conflict lines from Syrian regime-held Damascus which could be easily arranged, "which leaves us no reason to preserve the cross-border mechanism." 

Russia is a key ally of the regime of dictator President Bashar Al-Assad and intervened militarily on its behalf in 2015.

Polyansky said that fighters for Al-Nusra "openly state that they are not going to let through humanitarian cargo from Damascus to the detriment" of cross-border aid deliveries.

This appears to be another reference to HTS, which was created when groups including the successor to former Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front merged in 2017.

While HTS seems to no longer be connected with Al-Qaeda, it remains a radical Islamist organisation.

In early July 2020, China and Russia vetoed a UN resolution that would have maintained two border crossing points from Turkey to deliver humanitarian aid to Idlib.

Days later, the council authorised the delivery of aid through just one of those crossings, Bab Al-Hawa.

That one-year mandate was extended for a year on 9 July 2021 and expires in about six weeks.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told the council Friday that the UN is doing its "utmost" to expand cross-line aid deliveries, and is working toward a fifth convoy this year.

But he stressed that "cross-line operations cannot under current conditions replace the size or the scope of the massive UN cross-border operation."

"Failure to renew the authorization will disrupt life-saving aid for the people living in the northwest, including more than one million children," he said.

Last month, his deputy Joyce Msuya, told the council "a staggering 4.1 million people" in the northwest need humanitarian aid, with almost a million people, mainly women and children, living in tents, "half of which are beyond their normal lifespan".

She said last year the UN sent some 800 trucks of cross-border aid to the northwest each month, "consistently reaching 2.4 million people".

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who said she will be making a return visit to the Bab Al-Hawa crossing in the coming weeks, stressed that it is in the interest of everyone, including Russia and the Syrian regime, "to prevent a dire humanitarian situation in Syria from growing worse and more desperate".

That's why the Security Council voted unanimously last year to extend cross-border deliveries through Bab Al-Hawa "and why we must do so again this year in the interest of all Syrians," she said.