UN approves cross-border aid to rebel areas in Syria
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council approved the delivery of humanitarian aid across borders and conflict lines in Syria for another year on Tuesday, with Russia urging a gradual end to the program that has helped millions of people in rebel-held areas.
The council voted 12-0 to extend the mandate of the cross-border convoys, with Russia, China and Bolivia abstaining.
Sweden’s U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog, whose country co-sponsored the resolution along with Egypt and Japan, called the council’s action “a major achievement that will save lives and alleviate suffering.”
The cross-border program “remains a vital humanitarian lifeline for 3 million people in Syria,” he said. “There is no alternative humanitarian route to access parts of northern and southern Syria.”
Last month, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia demanded changes in the resolution, saying the program “undermines sovereignty of Syria.”
One key provision added to the resolution is a request to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to conduct an independent review of cross-border operations within six months and recommend how to strengthen the program.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Vladimir Safronkov recalled that the cross-border program was adopted in 2014 at the height of the Syria conflict as a temporary measure to provide aid when there was no other alternative way to help Syrians. By necessity, he said, it “impinged on Syria’s sovereignty.”
“Today the situation in the country has changed radically and the mechanism for cross-border deliveries remains a legacy of the past,” he said.
Russia’s intervention in the nearly seven-year civil war in 2015 to help its ally Syria has tipped the balance in favor of President Bashar Assad’s government.
Safronkov expressed hope that the secretary-general’s review will come up with plans to gradually end the cross-border program, and to strengthen monitoring of shipments and deliveries.
“We think it is important to gradually roll down this rudimentary scheme which has worked for Syria’s division,” he said.
Safronkov said Russia decided not to use its veto “being guided first and foremost by the interests of those Syrians who are in need of assistance.” But he said Russia couldn’t support the resolution because it didn’t include amendments Moscow proposed.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock welcomed the council’s action, stressing that “cross-border deliveries will remain an essential part of our efforts to meet the needs of all those across Syria who require humanitarian assistance.”
But he was sharply critical that restrictions in all besieged and hard-to-reach locations, especially “bureaucratic impediments,” meant only five cross-line convoys were able to deliver aid in November.
So far this month, he said, not a single convoy has made it to any besieged location and only two have received authorizations to travel to hard-to-reach locations.
Lowcock singled out besieged eastern Ghouta, where he said “increased fighting and lack of humanitarian access is rendering life unbearable for an estimated 393,000 people trapped inside the enclave.”
The U.N. and its humanitarian partners have only been allowed to reach 7 percent of those besieged, and food shortages have led to many cases of “severe acute malnutrition,” he said. In addition, more than 500 people are waiting for medical evacuation and 16 have already died including three in the last few days — an infant, a 9-year-old girl, and a quadriplegic.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre called the situation in eastern Ghouta “repulsive,” saying “it is a drama similar to Aleppo.”
“The regime is starving its population to kill off the opposition,” Delattre told the council. “This is unacceptable. It’s a serious violation of international law and also a huge moral sin. And everyone who has an influence on the Syrian regime should pressure it to put an end to this situation.”