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

Syrian protesters in Idlib carry placards expressing their opposition to Russia’s attempt to reduce cross-border aid to millions in the northwest of the country. (AFP)
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Updated 12 July 2020

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

  • The UN says millions of Syrian civilians in the country's northwest depend on aid delivered from Turkey
  • The council is now expected to vote on a second Russian draft text to approve aid deliveries for one Turkish crossing for one year

NEW YORK: Russia and China have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to prolong cross-border humanitarian aid to war-torn Syria, the authorization for which expires later in the day, diplomats said.
Thirteen countries voted in favor of the German-Belgian draft, but Moscow and Beijing opposed the extension for a second time this week because they favor a more limited proposal.
Russia has proposed a counter-resolution that limits authorization for humanitarian aid and could now be put to a vote.
Germany and Belgium, two nonpermanent Council members that are responsible for the humanitarian aspect of the UN’s Syria dossier, presented the draft that was put to vote on Thursday.
“We categorically reject claims that Russia wants to stop humanitarian deliveries to the Syrian population in need,” Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy wrote in a tweet.
Stopping cross-border aid would be “a devastating blow to the millions of Syrian families who rely on this aid for clean water, food, health care and shelter,” warned the NGO Oxfam.
Russia and China on Tuesday vetoed a draft resolution by Germany and Belgium providing for a 1-year extension of the cross-border authorization.
It would have allowed for the maintenance of two crossing points on the Turkish border — at Bab Al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab Al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.
The UN authorization allows the body to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without needing permission from Damascus.
Russia and China argue that the UN authorization violates Syria’s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channeled through Syrian authorities.
In January, Moscow, Syria’s closest ally, succeeded in having the crossing points reduced from four to two and in limiting the authorization to six months instead of a year.
Russia, which claims to want continued aid for the insurgent Idlib region, submitted a counter-proposal to the UN Security Council Wednesday to keep only the Bab Al-Hawa access point open, and for six months.
Moscow claims that more than 85 percent of current aid goes through Bab Al-Hawa and that the Bab Al-Salam entry point can therefore be closed. But the bid failed when put to vote.
In the only concession to Moscow, the new draft asked for just a six-month extension of cross-border aid authorization, instead of one year. But Germany and Belgium still wanted both border crossings kept open.
According Washington’s ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, keeping only one border crossing open would cut off 1.3 million people living north of Aleppo from humanitarian aid.
One diplomat has described the episode as a “showdown” that could drag on.
Another noted that “if the authorization is renewed a few days late, it is not the absolute end of the world. It suspends the convoys for a few days, it does not put them in danger.”
For the UN, keeping as many entry points open as possible is crucial, particularly given the risk of the coronavirus pandemic, which is spreading in the region.
In a report in June, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a 1-year extension of the aid to include the two current access points.
When asked Thursday if the UN would be satisfied with a single entry point into Syria, body spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “We need more aid to go through the border. We do not need less to go through.”
David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, described the veto as a “dark day” for Syrian civilians and the UN.
He added it “defies logic or humanity to dismantle a system designed to bring life-saving aid to Syrians in the form of food, health supplies, vaccines, and now critical COVID-19 provisions.”


Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

Updated 21 September 2020

Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

  • UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast
  • Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week
BEIRUT: Lebanon has retrieved the bodies of four people including a child after they tried to flee the crisis-hit country by sea on an overloaded dinghy, the civil defense said Monday.
A week ago, UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast.
Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week, during which time several passengers had died or jumped overboard to find help.
The bodies are presumed to be from the same ill-fated crossing.
Since Friday, “we have retrieved four bodies — belonging to two Lebanese, one of whom was a child, a young Indian man and a Syrian man,” Samir Yazbek, the head of the civil defense’s sea rescue unit, told AFP.
The bodies were found in four separate locations off the north and south coasts of the country, and the search was ongoing, he added.
The UN refugee agency said last week that 25 Syrians, eight Lebanese and three people of other nationalities had been rescued from the boat.
It is unclear how many men, women and children originally clambered aboard the dinghy, and therefore how many are still missing.
On Saturday, the navy said it would step up its searches within and outside Lebanon’s territorial waters to find any other victims.
Relatives of those who went missing from the impoverished north Lebanese city of Tripoli say the people smuggler involved in the crossing has dropped off the radar since the tragedy.
They have filed three legal complaints against the man, who they say is a well-known figure in the community.
A military source on Saturday said a person acting as an intermediary between passengers and the boat owner had been arrested.
In recent weeks, dozens of Lebanese and Syrians have tried to make the perilous sea journey from Lebanon to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, authorities on both sides say.
The Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member, lies just 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.
Lebanon is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades, compounded since February by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It is also reeling from a monster blast at Beirut’s port last month that killed more than 190 people, ravaged large parts of the capital and reignited public anger against the political class.