UN approves one-year extension of Turkey’s aid to Syria

The key question was whether the council should allow deliveries through Bab al-Hawa crossing northwest of Idlib for another year, which the West, UN and aid groups have called critical. – or for six months like Russia, Syria’s closest ally, had insisted. at. The current one-year mandate for aid through Bab al-Hawa expires on Saturday.

Resolution authorizes aid deliveries by Bab al-Hawa for six months until January 10, 2022, with an automatic six-month extension until January 10, 2022, subject to publication by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a report on the “transparency” of the aid operation and the progress made in channeling aid across conflict lines in Syria, as Russia wished.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council after the vote: “Thanks to this resolution, millions of Syrians can breathe a sigh of relief tonight, knowing that vital humanitarian aid will continue to flow. flock to Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa border post the day after tomorrow. , and parents can sleep tonight knowing that their children will be fed for the next 12 months.

“The humanitarian agreement we have made here will literally save lives,” she said.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia called the resolution “a step on the road to resolving the Syrian crisis and its consequences” and said he was grateful to the Americans and to all Council members for reaching an agreement “despite all the difficulties and all the problems”.

“Council members gave the green light for the cross-border mechanism to be gradually improved and eventually replaced with cross-border deliveries,” he said. “For the first time, it meets the need to improve inter-line deliveries. “

Nebenzia said the council members are also united “in the sense that humanitarian activities should also meet such acute needs of the Syrian population as water supply, health care and education.”

The resolution calls on the 193 UN member countries “to respond with practical measures to meet the urgent needs of the Syrian people in light of the profound socio-economic and humanitarian impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Syria, as a country in a complex humanitarian crisis. emergency.”

It also welcomes “all efforts and initiatives aimed at expanding humanitarian activities in Syria, including water, sanitation, health, education and shelter”, as well as early recovery projects.

The issue of aid to northwest Idlib has been a top priority for the US administration and President Joe Biden raised it during his summit last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Nebenzia and Thomas-Greenfield both stressed the importance of the deal they reached for future US-Russian relations.

The council vote on rival Western and Russian draft resolutions was initially delayed by a meeting between Thomas-Greenfield and Nebenzia.

Ireland and Norway, which drafted the West-backed resolution calling for a one-year extension, and Russia, which circulated a six-month extension plan, both withdrew their resolutions as a result. of this meeting. Then, the 15 members of the Security Council met and agreed on the compromise resolution which was approved unanimously.

Russia’s draft resolution, released on Thursday, would have authorized a six-month extension “with anticipation of renewal” subject to a report by Guterres on “transparency” in aid deliveries and progress in dispatch aid directly across conflict lines in Syria. It would have taken another Security Council vote when the six-month extension expired on January 10, but the resolution approved on Friday will not require another vote.

Nebenzia told the Security Council two weeks ago that aid crossing conflict lines “is the only legitimate option for a humanitarian operation” and he accused Western countries of wasting the past year that could have be used “to find a transparent and constructive solution and an optimal balance of Idlib purchases through Bab al-Hawa and national channels. “

Nebenzia also claimed that the humanitarian operation was not transparent and that part of the aid was going to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Idlib’s most powerful militant group, and not to needy Syrians.

He told reporters on Thursday that “12 months don’t fly” because nothing had happened in the past year, especially on cross-deliveries.

Western countries, the UN and aid organizations had argued that a one-year extension was essential to ensure the flow of aid, while six months would require another vote in January and could potentially leave millions of Syrians behind. without help in the middle of winter.

The Security Council approved four border crossings when aid deliveries began in 2014, three years after the start of the Syrian conflict. But in January 2020, Russia first used its council veto threat to limit aid deliveries to two border posts in the northwest, and then last July to cut crossings at Bab al-Hawa.

Ireland and Norway initially proposed to also reopen the Al-Yaroubiya border post between Iraq and northeastern Syria, which is mainly controlled by the Kurds. But last week, Nebenzia called the idea “not launched,” so Norway and Ireland revised their proposal to simply keep the Bab al-Hawa crossing open.

Acting UN humanitarian chief Ramesh Rajasingham told the Security Council at the end of June that refusal to extend Bab al-Hawa’s tenure “would disrupt life-saving aid to 3.4 million people in need in the northwest, millions of whom are among the most vulnerable in Syria. . “

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