UN to vote on aid deliveries to Syria's rebel-held northwest

UN to vote on aid deliveries to Syria's rebel-held northwest
The vote on Monday would decide if millions of Syrians can survive this winter. Russia is aiming to eliminate the only remaining path for humanitarian aid to the north of Syria.
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Millions of Syrians are struggling with harsh winter conditions in North of Syria. (Photo by Izzeddin Kasim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

 The U.N. Security Council is set to vote Monday on a resolution that would continue humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria’s rebel-held northwest from Turkey for another six months, and all eyes will be on Russia.

Russia, which is allied with the Syrian government, has succeeded in reducing cross-border assistance into Syria in recent years, with the aim of eliminating it.

There were no objections, however, to the final draft of the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Brazil and Switzerland, and several council diplomats said they expect Russia to abstain in Monday's vote. They spoke on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private.

But there is still uncertainty, reflected in comments Friday from the United Nations and the International Rescue Committee, one of the major aid providers.

Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in a report that the already dire humanitarian situation in Syria is worsening, and said if aid deliveries from Turkey to northwest Idlib aren’t renewed millions of Syrians may not survive the winter.

Guterres said deliveries have increased across conflict lines within the country, which Russia has pressed for. But he said they cannot substitute for “the size or scope of the massive cross-border United Nations operation.”

On Tuesday, the U.N. humanitarian chief and heads of the U.N. food, health, refugee, migration and population agencies issued a joint appeal to the Security Council to extend cross-border deliveries. They warned failing to do so “will be catastrophic for 4.1 million people in non-government controlled areas.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday that the U.N. remains “steadfast in our position” that millions of Syrians desperately need humanitarian help.

“We need to have the cross-border permission that will work in tandem with the cross-line,” he said.

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David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, said it is critical to renew cross-border aid deliveries after a year in which an economic downturn and a cholera outbreak have added to the immense difficulties Syrians in the northwest face after more than 11 years of conflict.

“This resolution is a key lifeline that will ensure people can survive,” Miliband said in a statement.

The draft resolution would continue aid deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey to northwest Syria for six months, until July 10.

In addition to pushing for more cross-line aid deliveries, Russia has also pushed for early recovery projects in Syria.

Guterres said in the December report that at least 374 early recovery projects have taken place throughout the country since January 2021, directly benefiting over 665,000 people, but he said “further expansion” is needed.

The draft resolution encourages efforts to improve cross-line aid deliveries and calls on all 193 U.N. member states to respond to Syria’s “complex humanitarian emergency” and meet the urgent needs of the Syrian people “in light of the profound socioeconomics and humanitarian impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It urges stepped-up initiatives to broaden activities to include providing water, sanitation, health, education, electricity, shelter and early recovery projects.

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The draft resolution would also put the Security Council on record as “determining that the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria continues to constitute a threat to peace and security in the region.”

Russia has repeatedly said the cross-border aid deliveries that began in 2014 were meant to be temporary.

In July 2020, China and Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have maintained two border crossing points from Turkey for humanitarian aid to northwest Idlib. Days later, the delivery of aid was reduced to just the Bab al-Hawa crossing for a year as they demanded.

In July 2021, Russia pressed for a further reduction, finally agreeing to a six-month extension with another six-months contingent on a report from the secretary-general on progress in cross-line deliveries. But last July, Russia insisted on U.N. authorisation for just six months.