UNITED NATIONS (AP) — France warned Russia on Thursday that if humanitarian aid deliveries are allowed only across conflict lines within Syria -- and not from neighboring countries -- Western nations which provide almost all the money will stop the funding.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere, the current Security Council president, told a news conference that Syrians in the rebel-held northwest and mainly Kurdish-controlled northeast need humanitarian assistance which cannot be delivered internally across conflict lines in sufficient quantities under the current situation in the country.
He spoke as the council began negotiations on a draft resolution that would continue the delivery of aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey to Idlib in northwest Syria and reopen the Al-Yaroubiya border crossing from Iraq to Syria’s northeast that was closed in January 2020 at the insistence of Russia, Syria’s closest ally.
The mandate authorizing aid through Bab al-Hawa ends on July 10, and Russia has come under intense pressure from the U.N., U.S., Europeans and others who warn of dire humanitarian consequences for over a million Syrians if all border crossings are closed.
“In the end facts are facts,” De Riviere said, “and if you close the cross-border mechanism ... the northwest of Syria will suffer a reduction of 50% of humanitarian relief.”
He said “cross-line doesn’t work,” pointing to the Syrian government’s rejection of 50% of cross-line requests this year.
“As I said repeatedly, 92% of humanitarian relief to Syria is provided by European Union, U.S., Canada, Japan basically,” The French ambassador said. “This is Western money, and nobody should expect this money to be reallocated through cross-line which does not work.”
De Riviere said: “This is a hard choice to make, and we hope to be able to continue to finance humanitarian relief in Syria.”
The Security Council approved four border crossings when aid deliveries began in 2014, three years after the start of the Syrian conflict. But in January 2020, Russia used its veto threat in the council first to limit aid deliveries to two border crossings in the northwest, and then last July to cut another, leaving Bab al-Hawa as the only place for cross-border deliveries.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused Western donors of “blackmailing” Moscow by threatening to cut humanitarian financing for Syria if the mandate for Bab al-Hawa is not extended.
“We consider it is important to resist such approaches,” Lavrov said in a recent oral statement conveyed to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and obtained last week by The Associated Press. “We believe that further concessions to the Americans and Europeans under the pressure of financial threats will undermine the credibility of the United Nations, its Charter and the Security Council’s resolutions.”
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Wednesday called the proposal to reopen the Al-Yaroubiya border crossing from Iraq to the northeast “a non-starter.” He also refused to say whether Russia will allow aid deliveries through Bab al-Hawa to continue or use its veto to block aid going through, which would end cross-border deliveries. “We continue consulting on the issue," he said.
Nebenzia reiterated Russia’s criticism of cross-border aid and said humanitarian assistance should be delivered across conflict lines within Syria to reinforce the Syrian government’s sovereignty over the entire country.
He reiterated Lavrov’s criticism of the continuous attempts since April 2020 to block a convoy by the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent to Idlib from Syria’s capital, Damascus. The Russian minister blamed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the strongest militant group in Idlib, “with the connivance” of Turkey, for refusing to allow the cross-line delivery.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who recently visited the Bab al-Hawa crossing, expressed disappointment Friday that the draft resolution didn’t call for aid deliveries through three crossings, including the second crossing from Turkey to the northwest at Bab al-Salam, which was closed last July.
“Millions of Syrians are struggling, and without urgent action, millions more will be cut off from food, clean water, medicine and COVID-19 vaccines,” she said.
Nebenzia said the Syrian government wants to close cross-border deliveries, and dismissed claims there is no alternative.
Cross-border aid was approved in 2014 “in special circumstances when there was no access to many parts of Syria,” he said. “But, of course, today it is now an outdated operation and eventually it will be closed,” he said.
Nebenzia said there were predictions of “disaster” when Al-Yaroubiya in the northeast was closed, “but today facts on the ground confirm, and the U.N. says that they have increased humanitarian assistance to the northeast ... through the cooperation with the Syrian government.”
The U.N. and Western nations insist that not enough aid, including medicine and vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, are getting to the northeast.
Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press