July 25, 2021

UN extends cross-border passage of humanitarian aid in Syria

The fifteen hands were raised, together, in the Security Council chamber: the opening of the Bab Al-Hawa crossing point, located on the Turkish border, which serves the province of Idlib and the North-West in humanitarian aid, has just been extended. Without this vote, this last uncontrolled corridor, vital for the populations living in the enclave, should have been closed the next day, Saturday July 10. At the UN, we had not seen such unanimity within the Council since 2016 on the humanitarian aspect of the Syrian issue.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield immediately greeted the “Disaster avoided” : every month, a thousand trucks will be able to continue to supply the four million Syrians and refugees in this region. His Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia welcomed this « moment-pivot » in the Syrian conflict, considered by some experts as a new beginning on the file, thanks to this American-Russian balance.

Suspense until the end

The Council dwelled on this “victory” as it contrasts with all the last voting sessions. Every six months, the Council was torn between Western countries and allies on one side, Russians and their Chinese ally on the other. “We saw the humanitarian system, which still passed through five cross-border points in 2019, be reduced to heartache”, recalls an observer at the UN.

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There was great fear of losing the last humanitarian corridor to the Syrian refugees. Main support of Damascus, Russia has long campaigned for the end of this cross-border mechanism, in favor of aid channeled through the front lines from Damascus, in order to recognize the regime’s full sovereignty over Syrian territory.

Above all, the suspense lasted until the end: the day before the vote, Moscow had tabled a draft text concurrent to that drafted by Ireland and Norway, coordinators of the file in the Council. A vindictive gesture, to suggest that she would not hesitate to go to the confrontation. Despite this, Council members managed to finally agree on a common position.

There were warning signs: the dynamics have changed over the past three weeks. We first saw a change in tone among New York diplomats, who until then refused to talk about a distribution of aid controlled by Damascus across the front lines. For the first time, some mentioned it as a “Possible option for the future”. What to relax Moscow, even if they were only oral concessions, “Because we know that it does not work at all, the Assad regime refusing 50% of requests for this type of aid distribution”, entrusts a diplomat to the UN.

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