Russia, China veto UN resolution to maintain aid for rebel-held areas in Syria

Russia, China veto UN resolution to maintain aid for rebel-held areas in Syria

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A child holds a food aid box from World Food Programme in Aleppo, Syria in April 2019. Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution Friday that would have maintained humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria through two crossing points from Turkey. (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters)

Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution backed by the 13 other Security Council members Friday that would have maintained humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria’s mainly rebel-held northwest through two crossing points from Turkey — just hours before the current mandate expires.

Without waiting for the announcement and signalling its intent to use its veto, Russia announced late Thursday that it had circulated a new resolution that would authorize just one crossing from Turkey for a year.

Diplomats said the 15 Security Council members have been discussing a possible compromise and would shortly hold a closed meeting to discuss a possible way forward.

Germany and Belgium said in a joint statement after the vote that they remain committed to reaching a solution to ensure the “critical lifeline” to “millions of people in dire need of cross-border assistance in Syria.”

International Rescue Committee President David Miliband said reducing aid deliveries to just one crossing point “would cut essential health supplies to one million people, and leave the UN unable to scale up in response both to COVID-19 and deteriorating food security.”

International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband, seen in Washington in May 2019, said Russia and China’s veto of the resolution “would cut essential health supplies to one million people.” (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

“Today is yet another example of the Age of Impunity, where two countries can veto with full knowledge, but utter disregard, for the impact it will have on civilian lives — all against the backdrop of an unprecedented and devastating global pandemic,” Miliband said.

A series of tweets from Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky Thursday night announced the new Russian resolution and urged Western support.

Russia, Syria’s closest ally, has argued that aid should be delivered from within Syria across conflict lines. But the UN and humanitarian groups say aid for 2.8 million needy people in the northwest can’t get in that way.

Disagreement on border crossings

The German-Belgium resolution would have extended the mandate for the two border crossings from Turkey to the northwest that are now being used — Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa — for six months.

The Russian-drafted resolution would only authorize cross-border deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa crossing for a year.

Germany’s UN ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, said Wednesday that while the Bab Al-Hawa crossing is used to deliver aid to Idlib province, the Bab al-Salam crossing reaches the region north of Aleppo, where an additional 300,000 Syrians displaced by the last offensive are now sheltering.

A large refugee camp on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, near the town of Atma, in Idlib province, is seen on April 19. (Ghaith Alsayed/The Associated Press)

“Both areas are separated by conflict lines,” he said.

Russia’s Polyansky tweeted that Bab Al-Hawa “accounts for more than 85 per cent of total volume of operations.”

“We categorically reject claims that Russia wants to stop humanitarian deliveries to the Syrian population in need,” he tweeted. “Our draft is the best proof that these allegations are groundless.”

In a third tweet, Polyansky said Western nations should “seize this opportunity” and support the Russian draft, which he said adapts “to the situation on the ground.”

“If they block our compromise proposal they will be responsible for the consequences,” the Russian envoy warned.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft has accused Russia and China of “breathtaking callousness and dishonesty” and distorting the realities on the ground.

Their actions in both resolutions underscore “a harrowing truth — that Russia and China have decided that millions of Syrian lives are an insignificant cost of their partnership with the murderous Assad regime,” she said in a statement.

Thursday’s rival resolutions capped a week of high-stakes rivalry over cross-border aid.

The initial German-Belgium resolution authorizing two crossings for one year won support from 13 of the 15 council members on Tuesday but was vetoed by Russia and China.

A Russian draft resolution authorizing one crossing for six months failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes on Wednesday. And a similar Russian amendment to the latest German-Belgium resolution was dramatically rejected earlier Thursday, getting only two “yes” votes from Russia and China.

In January, Russia scored a victory for Syria, using its veto threat to force the Security Council to adopt a resolution reducing the number of crossing points for aid deliveries from four to just two, from Turkey to the northwest.

It also cut in half the yearlong mandate that had been in place since cross-border deliveries began in 2014 to six months, as Russia insisted.

The defeated German-Belgium resolution had dropped a call for the reopening of an Iraqi crossing to the northeast to deliver medical supplies for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “Do not waste your time on efforts to reopen the closed cross-border points.”

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