Threat to flow of aid to Syria is a ‘life-and-death’ issue

A worker unloads bags and boxes of humanitarian aid from the back of a truck in the opposition-held Idlib, Syria. (Reuters/File)
Short Url
Updated 07 July 2021

Threat to flow of aid to Syria is a ‘life-and-death’ issue

  • A Security Council vote on renewing UN mandate for cross-border humanitarian assistance is due July 10; Irish envoy says millions depend on it to survive
  • Pressure is mounting on Russia to allow flow of aid to continue but Moscow believes it should all go through the regime in Damascus

NEW YORK: With just days to go before the UN mandate for cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria expires, the spotlight is on Russia amid fears of a Security Council showdown between Moscow and the West.
“It’s life-and-death issues we’re dealing with here,” said Ireland’s permanent representative to the UN, Geraldine Byrne Nason, who together with Norwegian counterpart Mona Juul are co-penholders of the file on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The penholder role refers to the member of the council that leads the negotiation and drafting of resolutions on a particular issue.
Nason and Juul have drafted a resolution to extend the cross-border mandate. They want the one remaining aid corridor through Bab Al-Hawa on the border with Turkey to remain open, and in addition to reopen Al-Yarubiya crossing on the border with Iraq.
“We’ve made the evidence-based arguments for months, together,” Nason told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York, where the Security Council on Tuesday met to discuss the issue behind closed doors.
“We’ve talked to every single member of the council, individually and collectively, and we’re making good headway, I think, and we’re hoping to see successful renewal later this week.”
Juul acknowledged that the debate within the Security Council on the issue “will get even more intense” in the run-up to July 10, when members will decide whether to reauthorize UN access to Bab Al-Hawa.
Cross-border aid provides a critical lifeline for millions of Syrians in the northwest of the war-torn country, as part of a massive international humanitarian response.
Ramesh Rajasingham, the UN’s acting humanitarian chief said a failure to extend the mandate “would disrupt lifesaving aid to 3.4 million people in need across the northwest, millions of whom are among the most vulnerable in Syria.”
He added: “A cross-line operation would provide a vital addition to the cross-border lifeline but it could by no means replace it. Even if deployed regularly, cross-line convoys could not replicate the size and scope of the cross-border operations.”
Cross-line operations refer to internal shipments of aid from Damascus to rebel-held parts of the country, whereas cross-border aid is shipped direct to those areas by other nations.
The Security Council approved four border crossings when international aid deliveries to Syria began in 2014. In January 2020 Russia used its veto power to force the closure of all but one. Moscow argues that the international aid operation violates the Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, said that Syria has been “liberated” and so all aid destined for the north should go through the capital, Damascus.
But aid agencies have said that humanitarian assistance delivered to Damascus does not reach areas that oppose Bashar Assad’s regime, which is accused of withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war.
Nebenzia, however, blamed the deteriorating humanitarian situation on the West’s “illegal economic sanctions (and its) continuing attempt to oust the legal authorities of the country through economic suffocation.”
During a side event at the UN on Tuesday about humanitarian assistance to Syria, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American ambassador to the organization, said: “There is no substitute for cross-border aid. We only have four days to ensure that this literal lifeline to women and children does not get shut down.
“And as a mother and as a grandmother, I cannot imagine what it would be like to be not able to provide food, healthcare and shelter to my own children and grandchildren.
“I also can’t imagine what it is like for us not to make that decision that we have to make. And that is what we have to do in the council over the next three-to-four days.”
Thomas-Greenfield implored member states and aid agencies to “engage council members, both in New York and in capitals, to urge them to vote for the renewal and to vote for the expansion.”
The US is the single largest humanitarian donor to Syria. Although the Biden administration has been cautious about articulating any clear goals for Syria, it has treated the humanitarian issue as non-negotiable.
Maintaining the flow of aid into Syria was one of the key requests President Joe Biden made during his meeting last month with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The imminent vote at the Security Council is therefore seen as a test of Biden’s efforts to ease tensions between Washington and Moscow, which are more strained than they have been for years.
Jomana Qaddour, a non-resident fellow at international affairs think tank the Atlantic Council, told Arab News that Washington is not approaching the humanitarian issue in Syria as a negotiation in which it will make “concessions in exchange for what the US believes is common sense.”
She added: “Of course, this is not how Putin perceives it. The Russians have used every step as a platform for concessions from the US and European allies, specifically as it relates to files that (Moscow) knows are a headache for the Biden administration, such as (international) sanctions (on the Syrian regime), normalization (of relations with Damascus), and reconstruction aid.
“These are really the top priorities for Russia, and it is going to use every opportunity to gain concessions from the US and Europe to achieve progress on those fronts.”
Nason and Juul remain focused on the aid issue.
“We understand it’s politically sensitive (but) we’re making a purely humanitarian case,” said Nason.
Juul added: “It’s hard to believe that we will not be able to continue this massive aid operation, which is probably the biggest in the world right now and the most scrutinized and organized of all operations.”
Qaddour laments the fact that the international view of the Syrian conflict seems to have been reduced to this narrow focus on the continued delivery of humanitarian aid while other crucial issues — such as the thousands of detainees and forcibly disappeared people, and the return of refugees — are being ignored.
“For all of us who have been working on Syria, it is incredibly frustrating to see all our energy every year spent on renewing what I think should be a no-brainer,” she said.
“I would love for that to be settled once and for all, so that we can actually focus on some of the root causes of the Syrian conflict that prevent the country and its people from living normal, stable and peaceful lives that provide them with some sense of justice, so that they can move on and rebuild.”


Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

Updated 13 August 2022

Vehicle accident in southern Egypt kills 9, injures 18

CAIRO: A vehicle accident involving an overturned microbus in southern Egypt killed at least nine people and injured eight, authorities said Saturday.
The crash took place Friday when the passenger vehicle overturned following a tire blowout on a highway in Minya province 273 kilometers (170 miles) south of the capital Cairo, provincial authorities said in a statement.
The microbus, a sort of mass transit minivan, was transporting people from Sohag province to Cairo, the statement said.
Ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to hospitals in Minya, the statement added.
Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes and collisions are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
Earlier this month, a microbus collided with a truck in Sohag, killing at least 17 people and injuring four others. In July, a passenger bus slammed into a parked trailer truck in Minya, leaving 23 dead and a least 30 wounded.

Related


Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Updated 12 August 2022

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

  • Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labour union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a "social contract" to tackle national challenges
  • The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page

TUNIS: Tunisia’s government and both its main labor and commerce unions agreed on Friday to start talks on Monday over economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue program.
State news agency TAP reported that Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labor union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a “social contract” to tackle national challenges, citing a government statement.
The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page.
The labor union, which represents a vast syndicate of workers, has been a staunch critic of IMF economic reforms proposed by the government, including subsidy cuts, a public sector wage freeze and the restructuring of state-owned companies.
It previously said, such reforms would increase the suffering of Tunisians and lead to an imminent social implosion.
Tunisia is seeking $4 billion in IMF support amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, though diplomat sources told Reuters any IMF program approved would be unlikely to reach that level.
The IMF wants the UGTT, a powerful union that has a million members and has previously paralyzed parts of the economy in protest, to formally agree to government reforms.
Efforts to secure the IMF bailout have been complicated by Tunisia’s political upheavals since President Kais Saied seized most powers a year ago, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree.
Last month, he pushed through a new constitution formalising many of the expanded powers he has assumed in a referendum. Official figures showed that 31 percent of Tunisians took part, but opposition groups have rejected the figure, calling it inflated.


Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

Updated 12 August 2022

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

  • It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border
  • The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday

BEIRUT: Syria’s autonomous Kurdish region transferred to the Iraqi government more than 600 relatives of Daesh group members who were detained at the notorious Al-Hol camp, a monitor said Friday.
It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border.
In the latest transfer, around “620 people, relatives of Daesh members, left Al-Hol,” coordinated between the camp administration and the Iraqi government, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday, an official in the Kurdish administration told AFP.
Thousands of foreign extremists joined Daesh as fighters, often bringing their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared by the group across swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed by a US-led coalition dislodged the militants from their last scrap of territory in Syria in 2019.
Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate their citizens from crowded displaced camps, of which Al-Hol is Syria’s largest.
More than 100 people, including many women, were murdered in Al-Hol over an 18-month period, the UN said in June, calling for camp residents to be returned home.
But nations have mostly received them only sporadically, fearing security threats and a domestic political backlash.
The first repatriation of Iraqi families from Al-Hol, involving around 300 people, took place in May last year.
Iraq should repatriate 500 families in total from Al-Hol this year, the official Iraqi New Agency announced on Wednesday.
In addition to the returned family members, the Iraqi government also received this week about 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters and leaders who were detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to the Observatory.
The SDF spearheaded the fight against Daesh in Syria with the support of the US-led coalition.
In early June, Iraq repatriated another 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters who were detained by Kurdish forces. They were among 3,500 Iraqis held in Syrian Kurdish prisons, a senior military official said at the time.
In April, a senior Iraqi security official said the Al-Hol camp is a security threat and should be dismantled.
It houses around 55,000 people, the UN reported in June.


Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force

Updated 12 August 2022

Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force

  • Supporters of the populist leader have occupied the Iraqi parliament since July
  • Iran-aligned political groups were expected to hold their own demonstration later on Friday

BAGHDAD: Thousands of followers of Moqtada Al-Sadr held a mass prayer outside parliament in Baghdad on Friday in a show of support for the powerful Shiite cleric who has called for Iraq’s judiciary to dissolve parliament by the end of next week.
Supporters of the populist leader have occupied the Iraqi parliament since July after a 10-month political stalemate that followed elections last October. Sadr was the biggest winner but failed to form a government free of Iranian-backed parties.
He withdrew his lawmakers from parliament and is now preventing the chamber from electing a new government and is demanding early elections.
On Wednesday he said the judiciary must dissolve parliament by the end of next week. If not “the revolutionaries will take another stand,” he said without elaborating.
Outside parliament on Friday thousands of Sadr supporters gathered for prayer. Most were dressed in black to mark the Muslim month of Muharram and some wore white capes symbolizing burial shrouds and their willingness to die.
“You will not break Iraq as long as Sadr is here,” an imam told the crowd from a big red stage set up outside parliament. “There is no going back from this revolution ... and the people will not give up their demands.”
In the intense summer heat, men picked their way through the worshippers and sprayed them with cold water. Some carried portraits of Sadr and his father, also a prominent cleric, as well as Iraqi flags.
“We have revolted and there is no going back,” said Mohammed Elwan, 40, carrying a portrait of Sadr.
Hamid Hussain, a father of five, said: “I am here to call for an early election and make sure that all the corrupt faces are excluded from the upcoming elections...I became unemployed because of the corrupt parties.”
Sadr’s opponents also accuse him of corruption. They say his loyalists have run some of Iraq’s most corrupt and dysfunctional government departments.
Iran-aligned political groups were expected to hold their own demonstration later on Friday, the latest in a series of protest and counter-protest in recent days which have led to fears of unrest.
Sadr counts millions of Iraqis among his followers and has shown he can still stir up gatherings by hundreds of thousands of supporters, mostly working-class Shiite Muslims, if he needs to exert political pressure.
His father Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr was killed more than 20 years ago for his outspoken opposition Saddam Hussein. When Saddam was topped in a US-led invasion in 2003 Sadr began an insurgency against US troops.
His new foes, however, are fellow Shiite leaders and parties mostly aligned with Iran, as Sadr has positioned himself as a nationalist who rejects foreign interference. Those groups, like Sadr, are backed by heavily armed militias, but do not hold the same sway as he does over masses of fanatical followers.


Syria rebels call for protests over Turkey’s ‘reconciliation’ call

Updated 12 August 2022

Syria rebels call for protests over Turkey’s ‘reconciliation’ call

  • Comments sparked calls for protests in key cities that fall under the control of Turkish forces
  • Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria

SYRIA: Protests broke out in Syria’s rebel-held north on Friday over a call from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for reconciliation between the Syrian government and opposition.
“We have to somehow get the opposition and the regime to reconcile in Syria. Otherwise, there will be no lasting peace, we always say this,” Cavusoglu said Thursday, in remarks to diplomats.
The comments have sparked calls for protests after Friday weekly prayers in key cities that fall under the control of Turkish forces and their supporters, including in Al-Bab, Afrin and Jarablus.
Similar calls were made in Idlib, controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham and other rebel groups, to gather at border crossings with Turkey.
Small protests already began overnight in some areas, including Al-Bab, where dozens gathered holding opposition slogans and chanting against Turkey.
Some demonstrators burned a Turkish flag, while others took down Turkey’s colors hung up around the city, an AFP photographer said.
Dozens of others gathered at the Bab Al-Salama crossing to Turkey, many shouting “death rather than indignity.”
Turkey’s top diplomat also revealed that he had held a short meeting in Belgrade in October with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Al-Meqdad, adding that communication had resumed between the two countries’ intelligence agencies.
But he denied direct talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad, despite long-standing calls from Russia for such dialogue.
Cavusoglu added that Turkey would continue its fight against “terrorism” in Syria, following warnings from Ankara since May that it could launch new strikes on Kurdish-held areas in north and northeast Syria.
Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria. Most have targeted Kurdish militants that Turkey links to a group waging a decades-long insurgency against it.
Cavusoglu’s comments have sparked widespread anger among the opposition, with renowned figure George Sabra writing on Facebook: “If Cavusoglu is concerned with reconciling with the Syrian regime, that is his business. As for the Syrians, they have a different cause for which they have paid and continue to pay the dearest price.”
About half a million people have died during Syria’s 11-year conflict, which has destroyed large swathes of the country and displaced millions of people.