Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended cross-border aid to Syria by one year without Damascus’s backing.
The authorisation for aid deliveries across the Syria-Turkey border at Bab al-Hawa, which has been in effect since 2014, is set to expire on Sunday. The aid is a lifeline for more than 2.4 million people in the northwestern Idlib region of Syria, under the control of rebels.
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Thirteen of the 15 council members voted in favour of the text.
China, which often votes the same way as Russia, chose to abstain, while Russia’s preferred option of a six-month extension with the option of another six months is opposed by other states.
The opposing members believe Russia’s proposal creates significant organisational challenges for NGOs on the front line. The vote had been set for Thursday but was scrapped following disagreement between Russia and the West.
Sunday’s deadline still leaves time for members of the Security Council to find common ground, observers note.
Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch, said it’s unclear how life-saving aid would be delivered to Syrians if the mandate is not renewed. “There is no plan B that is anywhere near as good as plan A,” Charbonneau told Al Jazeera.
“Millions of people depend on the aid that is coming through Bab al-Hawa. It’s a huge operation, and it’s very well run. It’s completely transparent; everything that the Russians were complaining about is completely lopsided.”
The vetoed text, proposed by Norway and Ireland, would have provided for a six-month extension until mid-January 2023, and then an additional six-month extension “unless the Council decides otherwise”.
The extension would also be conditional on a “substantive report” by the secretary-general, including on the operation’s transparency, progress on channelling aid across the front line, and progress on meeting humanitarian needs.
“We need to reach a solution in the immediate term, a solution which renews the mandate for cross-border aid. There is simply no time to waste. The Syrian people are counting on us,” Ireland’s UN representative Geraldine Byrne Nason said after the vote.
US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield termed it “a dark, dark day” for the Security Council.
“It is unfathomable that one security council member, Russia, put their own political interests above the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people,” she said.
Nearly 10,000 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid passed through Bab al-Hawa last year, bound for the Idlib region. It is the only crossing through which aid can be brought into Idlib without navigating areas controlled by Syrian government forces.
Moscow, an ally of Damascus, has curtailed several Western-backed measures in recent years.
It views the authorisation as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty, and believes the delivery of aid to the northwest region should only be carried out from Damascus across the front line.
Russia had hinted in recent months that it would oppose an extension, having already forced a reduction in the number of allowed border crossings.
The UN has been aiding millions of Syrians through multiple border crossings since 2014, but from 2020, the council reduced the entry points to just one, leaving Bab al-Hawa as the only option.