Russia attempt to halve UN cross-border aid to Syria fails

Germany and Belgium now expected to table new resolution to extend aid authorisation that is due to expire on Friday.

    United Nations authorisation allowing humanitarian assistance to Syria through two border crossings is due to expire on Friday [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
    United Nations authorisation allowing humanitarian assistance to Syria through two border crossings is due to expire on Friday [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]

    A Russian bid to get the United Nations to reduce cross-border humanitarian aid to war-torn Syria was voted down by the Security Council on Wednesday with just four nations on the 15-member body voting in its favour, an official said.

    Russia put forward the proposal after it joined China on Tuesday in vetoing a one-year extension to aid deliveries from Turkey through the two border crossings at Bab al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.

    The Russian resolution proposed halving humanitarian access by using only one crossing for six months.

    US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft told Reuters news agency she had urged her Security Council counterparts - who all voted in favour of Tuesday's resolution - to oppose Russia's proposal, describing the choice as "good versus evil."

    "We're talking about the difference between life and death for millions of Syrians," she said, adding that council members should continue to push to keep two border crossings open.

    Authorisation for the aid expires on Friday. 

    "The draft resolution has not been adopted, having failed to obtain the required number of votes," the President of the Security Council, German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, said.

    New draft being prepared

    Resolutions need nine votes and no veto from a permanent member of the Council to be passed. 

    Diplomats said that Russia, along with China, Vietnam and South Africa, had voted for the Russian resolution. 

    Against were the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Estonia and the Dominican Republic. 

    Tunisia, Niger, Indonesia and Saint Vincent abstained, the diplomats said.

    During the coronavirus pandemic the council has been operating virtually, which means members have 24 hours to cast a vote on a draft resolution. 

    UNSC: Russia, China veto cross-border aid extension to Syria

    Craft told AFP news agency that keeping only one border crossing open would cut off 1.3 million people living north of Aleppo from humanitarian aid.

    When asked if the issue was a "red line," she replied, "Yes, absolutely."

    Germany and Belgium are preparing a new resolution to renew the authorisation for cross-border aid before it expires, she added.

    "They already have a new draft in mind and we are very supportive," she said. 

    Sources told AFP the two European countries could agree to reduce the extension of the arrangement to six months, hoping that would be enough to satisfy Russia.

    Authorisation for cross-border humanitarian operation has been in place since 2014, with millions displaced by the country's prolonged civil war.

    The Security Council in January dropped crossing points from Iraq and Jordan because of opposition from Russia and China but allowed cross-border aid deliveries to continue from the two Turkish crossings for six months.

    Ahead of Tuesday's vote, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's spokesman Stephane Dujarric said cross-border access was "vital to the wellbeing of the civilians in northwest Syria ... Lives depend on it."

    Displaced Syrians walk past their makeshift tents build near olive trees near the village of Atmeh on February 22, 2020 in Idlib, Syria. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a speech Tuesday thr
    Millions of Syrians have been forced from their homes as a result of the country's long-running civil war [File: Getty Images]

    The vote marked the 15th time that Russia has used its veto since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, and the ninth for China.

    They argue that the UN authorisation violates Syria's sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channelled through Syrian authorities.

    Aid agencies and human rights groups condemned the use of the veto on Tuesday with the International Rescue Committee's David Miliband describing the move as "reprehensible".

    SOURCE: News agencies