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.”


Algeria reopens mosques, beaches after 5-month lockdown

Updated 15 August 2020

Algeria reopens mosques, beaches after 5-month lockdown

  • Restaurants were also allowed to reopen, and mosques that can hold more than 1,000 people and ensure social distancing measures
  • Crowds packed beaches Saturday in the capital Algiers, celebrating the opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean Sea

ALGIERS: Algeria started reopening its mosques, cafes, beaches and parks Saturday for the first time in five months, gradually relaxing one of the world’s longer virus confinement periods.
Curfews remain in place in more than half the country, and masks are required outdoors as Algeria tries to keep virus infections down. But authorities decided to start reopening public places starting Saturday, saying the virus infection rate is believed to have stabilized.
Crowds packed beaches Saturday in the capital Algiers, celebrating the opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean Sea amid the August heat.
Restaurants were also allowed to reopen, and mosques that can hold more than 1,000 people and ensure social distancing measures.
However, mosques remain closed to all women, children and the elderly until further notice, and the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday will remain banned to limit crowds. Mosque-goers must wear masks and bring their own prayer mats.
“This reopening will depend entirely on the discipline of each person to respect protection measures,” said the minister for religious affairs, Mohamed Belmahdi, who was among those attending the first services Saturday at Khaled Ibn El Walid Mosque in the resort town of Heuraoua east of Algiers.
He warned that authorities would close mosques again if Algerians show even a “slight indifference” toward preventive measures. “The health of citizens comes before faith.”
Algeria has reported more than 37,000 virus infections and 1,350 deaths as of Friday, the third-highest death rate reported in Africa after South Africa and Egypt.