UN extends Syria cross-border aid without Security Council vote

Bab al-Hawa crossing serves three million people in Idlib region, allowing passage of aid without going through government channels in Damascus.

Bab al-Hawa crossing at the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib governorate.
About 1,000 trucks carrying humanitarian aid go through Bab al-Hawa crossing every month [File: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]

Cross-border humanitarian aid to northwest Syria has been extended de facto for six months without a new vote at the United Nations Security Council.

The 15-member body had previously issued an authorisation for six months, allowing aid into rebel-held areas through the use of the Bab al-Hawa crossing at the Turkey-Syria border until January 10, 2022.

Bab al-Hawa is the last crossing with a UN mandate allowing aid to be delivered directly to Syrian areas in need without passing through the government channels in Damascus. More than 1,000 trucks carrying food, medicine and other humanitarian items go through every month.

In his December report, UN chief Antonio Guterres had stressed the impossibility of replacing at this stage the cross-border mechanism for one that crossed front lines from Damascus, which President Bashar al-Assad ally and permanent Security Council member Russia favours as recognition of the Syrian government’s sovereignty over the whole country.

Russia had previously raised the possibility of requesting a new Security Council vote on the issue, but did not take that step.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Monday described the cross-border delivery of aid as “essential”.

“We need aid to be delivered through cross-border and through cross-line. Those are essential elements for us to meet the humanitarian needs of all Syrians,” he told a daily news briefing.

Asked by Al Jazeera about the lack of a new Security Council vote and Russia’s decision, he said, “We would welcome any decision that would allow us to continue with this vital cross-border aid.”

Aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing primarily serves the roughly three million people living in the Idlib region, which remains outside the government’s control. Humanitarian advocates have warned millions of people would face “catastrophic” consequences if the aid operation is shut down.

In a rare show of unity, the Security Council unanimously adopted a last-minute compromise resolution on July 9, 2021, allowing the extension of the cross-border operation.

Resolution 2585 permits the UN’s use of the Bab al-Hawa crossing for the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Syria for six months with an automatic extension of an additional six months.

Four humanitarian border-crossings into war-torn Syria were set up by the Security Council in July 2014 but in subsequent renewals of that mandate, the number was reduced by Russia and China, who used their veto powers to discontinue three crossings.

Moscow has repeatedly accused the United States and Europe of politicising humanitarian aid by supporting the continuation of cross-border aid delivery without going through government channels in Damascus.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies