UN Security Council renews Syria cross-border aid in contentious vote


With the clock ticking down, the UN Security Council on Friday, January 10, renewed a UN operation delivering humanitarian aid to civilians in Syria. The measure though was criticized by some members as “watered down”, as it cuts the number of crossing points to the country and duration of the authorization.

After failing to extend the cross-border authorization last month, when permanent member Russia vetoed one draft resolution, the Council faced  a midnight deadline Friday for the expiration of its six-year-long mandate along with the possibility of yet another “no” vote from Russia.

With 11 votes in favour, 0 against, and with four of its permanent members ­­abstaining – China, Russia, United States, and United Kingdom – the Council re-authorized only two of the four existing border crossings (Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa in Turkey) for a period of six months (instead of 12), while dropping re-authorization for use of crossings in al-Ramtha (Jordan) and Al Yarubiyah (Iraq).

Against the backdrop of new Council members joining the peace and security body in the New Year, negotiations had been on-going with permanent members the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France meeting four times since last week, without reaching a compromise.

The main point of contention, according to news reports, revolved around the Al Yarubiyah crossing.

Resolution sponsors Germany, Belgium and Kuwait pushed for the continued delivery of aid through two crossing points in Turkey and one in Iraq.

But the competing resolution from Russia, Syria’s closest ally on the Council, advocated the closure of the Al Yarubiyah crossing in Iraq.

The UN cross-border aid delivery mechanism was first established in 2014 through resolution 2165. Its mandate was most recently renewed in resolution 2449 of 2018.

During the heated exchanges Friday evening, several Council members said they were disappointed that a scaled-down text had been adopted and that a better compromise was not reached.

Germany’s representative lamented that the decision had come “at a heavy price” for 1.4 million people in north-eastern Syria who would “wake in the morning up not knowing if they would be able to get the medical aid they needed.”

US Ambassador Kelly Craft described the resolution as “watered down” and said that it ignored the needs of millions of Syrians. While the text was a “body blow” to the Council’s credibility, the crisis it would create was “solely of Russia’s making.”

But Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the situation on the ground had changed dramatically and that any resolution adopted by the Council should specify that providing humanitarian assistance must be provided with the consent of the recipient and host governments.

UK Ambassador Karen Pierce accused Russia of “playing dice” with the lives of Syrian people in the north-east. The Council had been left with no choice but to approve a resolution that did not meet the needs of all Syrian people. “Aid is not a political tool to be bargained with,” she declared.

Last Friday, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and Rosemary Di Carlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Council in closed consultations on developments in Idlib.

During the meeting, several members cited the province’s deteriorating humanitarian situation to illustrate the urgent need to renew the cross-border aid mechanism before it expires.

And in November, Mr.Lowcock had told the Chamber that four million people across northern Syria were supported by UN cross-border humanitarian assistance.

“Without the cross-border operation, we would see an immediate end of aid supporting millions of civilians”, he had said. (Source: UN News)