United Nations Concerned as Syria Allows Aid Delivery via Closed Border Crossing
The United Nations expressed concerns regarding a letter from Syria that enables the resumption of aid delivery to northwest Syria from Turkey through a previously closed border crossing. The approval granted by the UN Security Council for this route had expired on Monday.
In a communication to the Security Council, which Reuters has obtained, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) objected to "two unacceptable conditions" outlined in Syria's letter on Thursday, which granted approval for the UN operation. However, OCHA acknowledged that the Syrian government's permission could serve as a legitimate basis for the United Nations to lawfully conduct cross-border humanitarian operations via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for the specified duration.
Since the expiration of the Security Council authorization on Monday, the United Nations has not utilized the Bab al-Hawa crossing. Prior authorization from the Council was necessary as the Syrian government had not previously consented to the UN operation, which has been providing aid to millions of people in northwest Syria since 2014.
On Thursday, Syria granted approval for the UN to continue using Bab al-Hawa for another six months, but with certain conditions. OCHA noted, "First, the Syrian government has emphasized that the United Nations should not engage with entities designated as 'terrorist.' The United Nations and its partners must maintain communication with relevant state and non-state parties as operationally required."
OCHA stated that such engagement is crucial for ensuring safe and timely access to civilians in need, and is consistent with international humanitarian law. Furthermore, OCHA mentioned that the Syrian government's demand for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to supervise and facilitate aid distribution in northwest Syria is impractical, as these organizations are not present in that region and contradicts the United Nations' independence.
In its letter, Syria also stipulated that UN aid deliveries must occur "in full cooperation and coordination with the Syrian government." OCHA emphasized the need for the United Nations to engage in clarifying any additional details concerning the delivery of humanitarian aid in northwest Syria. It stressed that these modalities should not infringe upon the impartiality (based solely on needs), neutrality, and independence of the United Nations' humanitarian operations.
There are concerns among Syrians who fled President Bashar al-Assad's regime that he may soon restrict critically needed aid, as Damascus seeks to assert control over UN assistance to the rebel-held northwest—the last significant stronghold of the Syrian opposition.
The 15-member Security Council failed to reach an agreement on Tuesday to renew the operation's mandate, as Russia vetoed a proposed nine-month extension. Russia's own proposal for a six-month renewal also failed to garner sufficient support within the Council.
"We had pre-positioned a significant amount of resources in the area (northwest Syria) before the deadline. So we do have humanitarian aid in place, but obviously we want to expedite the process," stated U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Friday.
A civil war erupted in Syria in 2011 after a violent crackdown by Assad on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators. Moscow has supported Assad, while Washington has backed the opposition. Millions of people have fled Syria, with many more internally displaced. The fighting has since diminished, and Assad now controls most of Syria.