The United Nations Security Council has extended a vital cross-border aid operation from Turkey into Syria for a year, after Russia and the United States agreed to an eleventh-hour compromise allowing life-saving aid to reach millions of Syrians.
The council mandate for the operation, which is the last remaining cross-border UN aid delivery point into Syria, was due to expire on Saturday. Russia had originally proposed just a six-month renewal, after not engaging in weeks of discussion on a resolution.
But in last minute fraught discussions between US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield and her Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia, the 15-member council unanimously adopted a compromise.
The draft resolution, penned by Ireland and Norway, states that the Bab al Hawa border crossing will remain open for six months, followed by the possibility of extending it for a further six months dependent on a “substantive report” by the secretary-general. Diplomats say this will not require another vote in January.
"Parents can sleep tonight knowing that for the next 12 months their children will be fed,” Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said shortly after the vote.
“The humanitarian agreement we’ve reached here will literally save lives.”
Russia’s Nebenzia described the vote as a "historical moment" that he hoped could "become a turning point that not only Syria will win from ... but the Middle Eastern region as a whole."
But he added that Russia would “carefully monitor this process over the next six months” before the report is produced.
Norway’s ambassador to the UN, Mona Juul, heralded the “uniquely close and constructive cooperation” that allowed the deal to be reached and said it was the first time since 2016 that the Security Council had unanimously voted for such a resolution.
The lives of millions of people in war-ravaged northeast and northwest Syria are dependent on the cross-border distribution of food, medicine, Covid-19 Vaccines and other lifesaving assistance.
Bab al-Hawa is frequently referred to as a “lifeline” for Syrians.
But Russia has repeatedly threatened to use its veto power to shut down the entire UN cross-border aid programme, claiming it is no longer needed, a point rights groups say is groundless.
The council first authorised a cross-border aid operation into Syria in 2014 at four entry points.
Last year, it whittled that down to one point from Turkey into a rebel-held area in Syria due to Russian and Chinese opposition over renewing all four.
There were hopes that the Bab al Salam crossing between Turkey and Northern Aleppo and the Yarubiyah crossing from north-east Syria into Iraq which were both closed in 2020 might be included in the resolution.
Both Norway and Ireland’s ambassadors admitted that they had unsuccessfully pushed for more than one border crossing to be renewed.
Amnesty attacked the compromise and said Russia and China had “displayed an utterly shameful disregard for the lives of those who are reliant on humanitarian aid to survive”.
US President Joe Biden raised the importance of the cross-border aid operation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June. His administration has warned that any future cooperation between the US and Russia over Syria would be at risk if the cross-border aid deliveries were shut down.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also appealed to the Security Council to renew the cross-border aid operation for another year, warning that a failure to do so would be devastating for millions of people.
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