Russia and China clashed with other UN Security Council nations over the delivery of humanitarian aid across borders and conflict lines to more than one million Syrians in mainly rebel-held areas.
Since 2014, the Security Council has sent aid through four border crossings – Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa in Turkey, al-Yarubiyah in Iraq, and al-Ramtha in Jordan.
The sponsors of this year’s aid resolution – Germany, Belgium and Kuwait – circulated a draft that has been discussed for several weeks that would add a new crossing point in Turkey and extend cross-border operations for a year.
Russia and China, allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, circulated a rival resolution on Monday that seeks to close the crossing points in Iraq and Jordan, leaving only two in Turkey while not adding the third proposed in the rival resolution. And it would renew the cross-border operation for only six months.
Envoys from the 10 elected members of the Security Council, which serve two-year terms, stood outside the chamber on Tuesday to express support for renewing the cross-border “mechanism.” They warned “the consequences of a non-renewal of the mechanism would be disastrous”.
The 15-member council discussed the rival resolutions behind closed doors on Wednesday.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the sponsors’ resolution “has little to do with the real situation on the ground” and is “unacceptable and inviable,” indicating Moscow would veto it if it is put to a vote.
Britain’s ambassador, Karen Pierce, countered “in the last few years the situation has not changed materially to obviate the need for cross-border aid”.
As for a fifth crossing at Tal Abyad in Turkey, she said, “we would much rather have the fifth crossing as would the UN”.
If a compromise is needed, she said, a fifth crossing might be something the Security Council needs to come back to at a future date.
German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said the three co-sponsors will need to come up with a resolution.
“We are not impressed by any veto threats,” he said. “We … are obliged to look at the humanitarian needs as objectively as needed.
“Our message to Russia is as it has always been before – please observe international humanitarian law and see to it that the people that are suffering in this terrible war that has lasted much too long, that this suffering can be stopped.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report circulated on Monday: “The United Nations does not have an alternative means of reaching people in need in the areas in which cross-border assistance is being provided”.
Vote before Christmas
Last year, Russia and China abstained in the 13-0 vote authorising the crossing points.
The mandate for the current resolution expires on January 10 and diplomats said they expect tough negotiations.
Heusgen said he expects a vote before Christmas.
Guterres said 2019 saw “a further deterioration of an already extremely difficult humanitarian situation for people throughout Syria, where over 11 million people remain in need of assistance”.
As the year draws to an end, the secretary-general said he is “particularly concerned about the impact that a potential full-scale military offensive in the northwest could have on the already vulnerable population, while also watching with concern the impact of ongoing hostilities in the northeast, as well as increasing tension in the south”.
He said this year’s humanitarian appeal for Syria for $3.3bn is only 55 percent funded, at $1.8bn, and urged donors to provide additional support.
In April, Syrian government forces and their allies launched a ground and aerial offensive on northwest Syria, the last rebel-held territory in the country. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in the hostilities, according to the United Nations, while hundreds of thousands more have been displaced since the escalation began.