Russia and China veto UN extension of cross-border aid to Syria

The two nations veto UN resolution to maintain two border crossing points from Turkey to deliver aid to northwest Syria.

Russia and China have vetoed a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution to extend aid deliveries from Turkey to Syria, which the UN says is crucial to save millions of lives.

The six-year-long UN approval of aid deliveries to Syria from Turkey is authorised until Friday. The remaining 13 UNSC members voted on Tuesday in favour of the resolution drafted by Germany and Belgium.

The Security Council will now vote on a rival Russian proposal to approve one Turkish crossing for aid access for six months. During the coronavirus pandemic, the UNSC has been operating virtually, which means members have 24 hours to cast a vote on a draft resolution.

Earlier on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said cross-border access was “vital to the wellbeing of the civilians in northwest Syria … Lives depend on it.”

The UNSC in January allowed cross-border aid operation to continue from two Turkish crossings for six months, but dropped crossing points from Iraq and Jordan due to opposition by Russia and China.

Tuesday’s vote was the 15th time that Russia used its veto since the start of the Syrian war in 2011.

“We are seeing a repeat of what happened six months ago. Until that point, the UN had four border crossing authorised for aid delivery,” said Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays, reporting from New York.

“After using its veto in December, Russia managed to get that reduced to two crossings,” he said, adding that the “clock was ticking until the existing authorisation runs out on Friday”.

‘Despicable and dangerous’

Last month, Germany and Belgium proposed reopening the Iraq crossing for six months to help Syria combat the coronavirus, but it was cut from the draft resolution that was put to a vote on Tuesday, again due to opposition by Russia and China.

It was an “extremely negative development”, a European diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

“They want to strangle the population even more,” the diplomat continued, adding that aid “cannot reach the population from one” crossing point.

“Insisting on only one crossing point is cynical and it doesn’t meet the needs of the people,” said the diplomat.

Sherine Tadros, head of Amnesty International’s UN office, said it was “impossible to overstate the importance of ensuring the crossing points”.

“For millions of Syrians, it is the difference between having food to eat and starving,” she said. “For hospitals, it is about having enough supplies to save lives. That’s why Russia and China’s abuse of the veto power is despicable and dangerous.”

The International Rescue Committee was also quick to condemn the Russian and Chinese vetoes.

“Blocking access to food, healthcare supplies, vaccines, and ventilators is unacceptable anytime but in the year of COVID-19, it is even more reprehensible,” said IRC president David Miliband in a statement.

In January, Moscow, Syria’s closest ally, succeeded in having the crossing points reduced from four to two and in limiting the authorisation to six months instead of a year, as had been done previously.

Russia, like China, argues that the UN authorisation violates Syria’s sovereignty and that the aid could be distributed by the Syrian authorities.

China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun blamed unilateral sanctions against Syria, imposed by the United States and the European Union, for exacerbating the country’s humanitarian situation and urged they be lifted.

Western nations and the UN secretariat, on the other hand, insist that cross-border aid is the only credible option in Syria, and that the flow of relief supplies would face multiple obstacles if it had to pass through Damascus’s control.

According to a report published by the UN on Tuesday, the humanitarian situation in Syria is disastrous.

“Syria’s economy is devastated,” said Hanny Megally, one of the authors of the report. “The country has been in a nine-year conflict. People are suffering.”

“An estimated 2.8 million people in northwest Syria – 70 percent of the region’s population – require humanitarian assistance,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the UNSC on June 29.

A crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to a civil war, with Moscow backing al-Assad and Washington supporting the opposition.

Since the outbreak of the conflict, some estimates say at least 500,000 people have been killed. Millions of people have fled Syria and millions are internally displaced.

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