The United Nations Security Council has approved aid deliveries to Syria from Turkey, but only after caving in to Russian pressure to close one of the two access points into the war-torn country.
Following a week of division and seven ballots, the UNSC on Saturday passed a proposal submitted by Germany and Belgium allowing the use of the Bab al-Hawa crossing point for one year.
Western nations say the closure of the second access point will cut a lifeline for 1.3 million Syrians in the country’s northwest.
Authorisation for the continued transport of aid to Syria, a system in place since 2014, expired on Friday night.
The 15-member UNSC had been deadlocked, with most members pitted against Syrian allies Russia and China over the issue.
Russia and China, which hold veto power at the council, wanted to halve the approved Turkey border crossings to one, arguing that northwest Syria could be reached from within the country.
In the session, the measure was approved by 12 of 15 members in the council’s fifth vote this week on the issue, with Russia, China and the Dominican Republic abstaining.
German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen told his Chinese and Russian counterparts to report back to their capitals “how those people who gave the instructions to cut off the aid of 500,000 children … are ready to look into the mirror tomorrow”.
For weeks, Russia, Syria’s most important ally, had been demanding an end to the use of the Bab al-Salaam border crossing, which leads to the Aleppo region in northern Syria.
Council members had also been split on whether to renew authorisation for six months or one year.
“Russia is consistently in favour of humanitarian deliveries to Syria with full respect of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and with coordination of its legal government. This issue should not be politicised,” deputy Russian UN envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy said after the vote.
Acting British UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen said after the vote that the loss of aid access through Bab al-Salaam border crossing would deprive “1.3 million people in northwest Syria of cross-border humanitarian assistance that they rely on”.
“One border crossing is not enough, but no border crossings would have left the fate of an entire region in question,” Germany and Belgium said in a joint statement after the vote.
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said Beijing always had reservations about the delivery of cross-border aid, but given the current situation in Syria, it does not object to retaining it “at this stage”.
Aid agencies operating in Syria said in a joint statement on Sunday that the recent UN Security Council decision will cause loss of many lives in the region.
“In northwest Syria, where a vital cross-border lifeline has been closed … Many will now not receive the help they need. Lives will be lost. Suffering will intensify,” the agencies said.
“With the first case of COVID-19 confirmed in Idlib, an area with a severely weakened health infrastructure, this is a devastating blow,” the statement added.
‘Displaced people cut off aid’
Vanessa Jackson, the UN representative and head of office for non-governmental organisation Care International, said the decision will affect the much-needed help for displaced Syrians.
“People in northern Aleppo have the highest concentration of displaced people with over 60 percent [of them],” she told Al Jazeera.
“These are people who have been displaced multiple times in the course of the war over nine years. And they are overwhelmingly women and children. So, these are the very people that the UN was set up to serve.”
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said the result of the vote is another example that humanitarian aid was increasingly politicised in the war in Syria.
“In nearly a decade of conflict in Syria, starvation has been repeatedly used as a weapon of war. What we have seen here in the last week may well be another episode in the international community’s response to the Syrian crisis – that history will judge badly,” he said.
When the UNSC first authorised the cross-border aid operation into Syria in 2014, it also included access from Jordan and Iraq. Those crossings were cut in January due to opposition by Russia and China.
Russia has vetoed 16 council resolutions related to Syria since Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on protesters in 2011, leading to civil war. For many of those votes, Moscow has been backed in the UNSC by China, which has vetoed 10 council resolutions.