The UN Security Council has agreed to extend a cross-border aid operation into Syria from Turkey that ensures UN aid access to millions of Syrians for 12 months.
The council reached the agreement to extend activity at the only border crossing through which humanitarian aid reaches the rebel-held region of northwest Syria after Russia agreed to a compromise in last-minute talks with the United States.
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“Parents can sleep tonight knowing that for the next 12 months their children will be fed. The humanitarian agreement we’ve reached here will literally save lives,” said US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Friday.
The council mandate for the long-running aid operation was due to expire on Saturday. After not engaging in weeks of discussion on a resolution drafted by Ireland and Norway, Syrian ally Russia on Thursday proposed a six-month renewal.
Following negotiations between Thomas-Greenfield and Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Friday morning, the 15-member council unanimously adopted a compromise resolution that asks for a UN report on Syria aid access in six months, but that diplomats said does not require another vote in January to again extend the cross-border operation.
US President Joe Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and “the leaders commended the joint work of their respective teams,” a White House statement read.
Separately Nebenzia described the vote on the resolution, presented by both the United States and Russia, as a “historical moment”.
“For the first time, Russia and the United States not only managed to reach an agreement but they also presented a joint text supported by all the council members,” he said.
“We hope this scenario represents a turning point that will benefit not just Syria but the entire Middle East region and the world.”
‘Something to build on’
Norway’s foreign ministere Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide said she was “very pleased” with the resolution.
“We think this is an extremely important resolution. It’s the lifeline of 3.4 million people who have no other way of reaching with basic humanitarian aid,” Soreide told Al Jazeera.
“This is really a milestone because this is the first resolution on Syria in almost five years that was adopted unanimously, and that I think is something to build on for also the political solutions that must come in Syria,” she added.
Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar, reporting from the Bab al-Hawa crossing at the Turkey-Syria border, said that despite this being a positive achievement the resolution does not represent a long-term solution.
“One-third of the population in this tiny place [northwest Syria] depends on the UN aid distributions, and yesterday we were at the refugee camps and [we] could see that the situation was so dire, children, women with very limited access to water, food, electricity and medical care,” Serdar said.
“In addition to that, there are continuous attacks from Russians and the regime forces over these populated areas … In that sense, the 12 months extension of the UN cross-border aid mechanism is definitely going to provide relief to the local health care workers and patients, but it’s far for being a permanent solution to the health care crisis and the humanitarian crisis in this war-torn region,” he added.
Biden had raised the importance of the cross-border aid operation with Putin in June. The Biden administration warned at the time that any future cooperation with Russia over Syria would be at risk if the cross-border aid deliveries were shut down.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to the Security Council to renew the cross-border aid operation for another year, warning that a failure to do so would be devastating for millions of people.
The council first authorised a cross-border aid operation into Syria in 2014 at four points. Last year, it whittled that down to one point from Turkey into a rebel-held area in Syria due to Russian and Chinese opposition over renewing all four.
Russia has said the aid operation is outdated and violates Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In a swipe at the US and others, Russia and China have also blamed unilateral sanctions for some of Syria’s plight.