UN expresses concern over unacceptable conditions set by Damascus for cross-border aid
The United Nations (UN) has raised concerns about the “unacceptable conditions” imposed by Damascus for the facilitation of aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing to rebel-held areas in northwest Syria.
Since Monday, the delivery of humanitarian aid through the crossing has been halted following the expiration of a 2014 UN agreement. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a letter from Syrian authorities this week allowing the use of the border crossing included two conditions deemed unacceptable by the UN Security Council.
The first condition objected by OCHA was the Syrian government’s emphasis on the UN refraining from engaging with entities designated as “terrorist.” The second condition raised concerns as it required the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to supervise and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid in northwest Syria.
The UN has emphasized that over four million people in northwest Syria urgently require food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies. Since 2014, the UN has predominantly utilized the Bab al-Hawa crossing via neighboring Turkey for the delivery of relief aid to northwest Syria.
On Thursday, Syria announced that it would permit the UN to use Bab al-Hawa for six months to deliver vital humanitarian assistance to millions of people in rebel-held regions. Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bassam Sabbagh, referred to this decision as a “sovereign choice” made by his country.
However, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, stated on Friday that there had been no crossings at Bab al-Hawa with UN humanitarian aid, indicating that Syrian authorities are currently reviewing the authorization. Dujarric expressed the need to carefully examine the conditions outlined in the letter from Syria.
The AFP-reviewed OCHA document also called for a “review” and “clarification” of certain aspects of Damascus’ letter, emphasizing that aid deliveries should not compromise the impartiality, neutrality, and independence of UN humanitarian operations.
Damascus has consistently criticized the UN aid deliveries as an infringement on its sovereignty, with Russia, a major ally, gradually undermining the agreement over the years. On Tuesday, Russia vetoed a nine-month extension of the agreement and subsequently failed to gather sufficient votes to adopt a six-month extension.
The 15 members of the UN Security Council had been working to find a compromise to extend the cross-border aid deal in recent days. The ongoing conflict in Syria has resulted in the loss of over 500,000 lives, displaced millions of people, and caused significant damage to the country’s infrastructure and industries.
The ICRC delegation in New York stressed that the magnitude of the needs in Syria necessitates an all-encompassing and unrestricted approach to humanitarian aid. They expressed readiness to provide support within their capabilities, subject to the consent of all involved parties.