On 11 July, the UN Security Council failed to reach consensus on extending a key Syria aid route. This threw into doubt a vital mechanism that provides life-saving support to millions of people.
Russia vetoed a nine-month extension of the agreement authorising the operation of the conduit during a vote at the UN headquarters in New York. It then failed to muster enough votes to adopt just a six-month extension.
Many council members – including the US, the UK, and France – have called for a full-year extension. However, they backed a nine-month compromise put forward by Switzerland and Brazil.
The proposal was vetoed by Russia, whose six-month offer only secured China’s support.
US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Russia’s veto “an act of utter cruelty”.
Russian representative Vassili Nebenzia said that Western countries had a “complete disregard” for the interests of the Syrian people. On top of this, he accused them of “artificially” provoking Moscow into vetoing.
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He also threatened to “close down” the aid route if support for his country’s draft was not forthcoming.
Syria aid corridor halted
The 15 members of the Security Council had been trying for days to find a compromise to extend the deal. Since 2014, it has allowed for food, water, and medicine to be trucked to northwestern Syria without the authorisation of Damascus.
Humanitarian convoys wrapped up their operations the night of 10 July. Now, the future of the aid corridor is unclear. It cannot resume operations until the UN reauthorises it.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said he was “disappointed” by the failure to reach agreement. He called on all council members to “redouble their efforts to support the continued delivery” of the assistance.
The Swiss ambassador to the UN said diplomats would “get back to work immediately to find a solution”.
‘Needs, not politics’
Floriane Borel of Human Rights Watch said “aid delivery should be based on needs, not politics”. She added that:
Russia’s cynical veto of a cross-border aid lifeline for millions of Syrians is a painful reminder that the Security Council should not be entrusted with decisions about humanitarian assistance.
The crossing provides for more than 80% of the needs of people living in rebel-controlled areas. This included everything from diapers and blankets to chickpeas. The government in Damascus regularly denounces the aid deliveries as a violation of its sovereignty.
Russia has been chipping away at the deal for years. The accord originally allowed for four entry points into rebel-held Syria. More recently, this was reduced to one: the Bab al-Hawa crossing.
The aid mechanism comes up for renewal every six months due to pressure from Damascus ally Moscow.
An ‘intolerable’ situation
UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths called again last week for the opening of more crossing points, for at least 12 months.
He added that the situation:
is intolerable for the people of the northwest, and those brave souls who help them to go through these ups and downs every six months.
He also pointed out that humanitarian agencies have to bring pre-positioned stock into the country every time access is threatened, in case the crossing is closed.
According to the UN, four million people in Syria depend on humanitarian assistance to survive. Years of conflict, economic strife, and devastating earthquakes have only exacerbated the situation.
An earthquake in February killed tens of thousands of people in the country. Following it, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad agreed to the opening of two more crossings.
These remain open despite the Security Council’s failure to reauthorize the use of Bab al-Hawa. The authorization for these two other corridors is set to expire in mid-August.
‘That door is shut’
Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said those two crossings “cannot match” Bab al-Hawa, which handles 85% of aid.
Since the earthquake, more than 3,700 UN trucks carrying aid have passed through the three checkpoints. Most have passed through Bab al-Hawa, including 79 on Monday.
However, Dujarric warned that:
That door is shut right now.
Additional reporting via Agence France-PresseSupport us and go ad-free
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