Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy

The unanimous vote to extend the mandate for the transport of aid to Syria through a crossing on the border with Turkey came after Russia finally agreed to a compromise with the US. (AFP)
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Updated 30 July 2021

Renewal of cross-border aid to Syria will not be automatic: Russia UN envoy

  • Whether aid operations will be extended depends on 'things the security council and international community need to be doing in the run-up to the possible renewal’
  • Other countries’ efforts to reach a settlement in Syria are welcome but only if they ‘proceed from the respect of territorial integrity'

NEW YORK: When the UN Security Council agreed to extend a cross-border humanitarian operation into Syria earlier this month, concerns were raised over the wording of the resolution as some considered it ambiguous.

Resolution 2585 stated the mandate for the Bab Al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Turkey border had been extended for six months until Jan. 10, “with an extension of an additional six months, until July 10, 2022, subject to the issuance of the secretary-general’s substantive report.”

Linda Thomas Greenfield, the US permanent representative to the UN, was adamant that the US saw the resolution “being automatically renewed following the (secretary-general’s) report. No vote will be required and the council will work with the secretary-general’s office to ensure that once he puts his report on the table, that it will be accepted by all council members.”

However, in his first encounter with journalists since the vote took place, the charge d’affaires of the Russian Federation at the UN, Dmitry Polianskiy, quickly debunked the American interpretation and media reports that adopted it.

“This is not the case,” Polianskiy said. “Whether or not the mechanism will be prolonged for another half year, like what the ambassador said, is dependent on how transparent the secretary-general’s report will be. There are a lot of conditions in the text of the resolution. It is very significantly beefed up with a lot of things that the security council and the international community are supposed to do in the run-up to this possible prolongation in six months.

“So, there is no automatism in this part.”

The unanimous vote to extend the mandate for the transport of aid to Syria through a crossing on the border with Turkey came after Russia finally agreed to a compromise with the US.

It followed months of intransigence on the part of Moscow, which argued that all aid should be channeled through the regime in Damascus. Russia also blamed the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country on international sanctions imposed on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Polianskiy reiterated this position and said Moscow hoped to see “a dramatic increase in cross-line deliveries and in the efforts to assist in the reconstruction of Syria.”

Cross-line operations refer to internal shipments of aid from Damascus to rebel-held parts of the country, whereas cross-border aid is shipped directly to those areas by other nations.

“Our position is that the cross-border mechanism belongs to history,” Polianskiy said. “It was adopted when the Syrian government was not in control of its territories, and it goes contrary to the principles of humanitarian assistance, which call first for the consent of the receiving country. Syria refused cross-border aid from the beginning.

“Now, our international partners should prove that they are sincere in their pledges to us that they will work through cross-line deliveries as well. For the initial period, we will want (the latter) to supplement cross-border deliveries, for them to work as a single package because if it is about helping people living there, then it does not matter how you deliver humanitarian aid, cross-border or cross-line. But if you have political reasoning, yes this matters very much. So we think that political reasoning should not be (factored in) our decisions on Syria.”

The Russian envoy repeated his country’s claim that the economic suffering in Syria is a result of western unilateral sanctions and “coercive measures.”

“It is very hypocritical, on one hand, to increase the assistance to Syrians, and on the other hand, to keep unilateral sanctions and coercive measures,” Polianskiy said.

Russia continued to defend the Assad regime at the security council and called on nations to take part in the reconstruction efforts of the war-ravaged country. At the same time, Western council members and others reiterated that they will not support any reconstruction aid that benefits the regime absent progress in achieving the political reforms called for in Resolution 2254.

During his meetings in Moscow this week, Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria, expressed hope that the common understanding seen in adopting the humanitarian resolution could be developed “into more of a unity when it comes to the political process.”

In order for that to happen, Pedersen said “we need to sit down together and discuss what all of us can bring to the table.”

Polianskiy said: “I do not know what magical solution Mr. Pedersen has to accommodate these concerns and how he will bring all the parties, including the government, to the negotiations table.

“Let us see. He is a very talented and experienced diplomat. We respect him very much. But so far, we think that the only working format is the constitutional committee which is taking place in Geneva. We hope there will be another meeting and we are trying to assist as much as we can in a settlement for Syria and to get up to speed with the constitutional committee.”

The Russian diplomat welcomed other countries’ efforts but only if they “proceed from the respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty in Syria. But the devil is in the details, so let us see what comes out of it.”

He added: “It is not that we want to monopolize some kind of negotiation track on Syria. We were from the very beginning advocating for a dialogue to find a solution. But the fact is there are certain states that still do not want to engage with the current Syrian government, which is legitimately recognized by the whole world.”


Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Updated 35 sec ago

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

  • Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption
  • Lebanon is running out of fuel and gas to medicine and bread
DUBAI: Lebanese expats in the wealthy UAE, many of them riven with guilt, are scrambling to ship essential goods and medicine to family and friends in their crisis-stricken home country.
“How can I sit in the comfort of my home in air-conditioning and a full fridge knowing that my people, my friends and family, are struggling back home?” asked Jennifer Houchaime.
“Oh, the guilt is very, very real,” said the 33-year-old resident of Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates which is home to tens of thousands of Lebanese.
“It’s guilt, shame and nostalgia.”
Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption.
Its currency has plunged to an all-time low, sparking inflation and eroding the purchasing power of a population denied free access to their own savings by stringent banking controls.
Lebanon is running out of everything, from fuel and gas to medicine and bread, and more than three-quarters of its population is now considered to be living under the poverty line.
Social media platforms are filled with posts by Lebanese appealing for contacts abroad to send basic goods such as baby formula, diapers, painkillers, coffee and sanitary pads.

Aya Majzoub, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said trust in the Lebanese government is at an all-time low.
“It is unsurprising that local and grassroots initiatives have sprung up to fill this gap while bypassing the government that they view as corrupt, inefficient and incompetent,” she told AFP.
With no faith in the Lebanese authorities, expats have taken it upon themselves to transport aid.
Houchaime and a number of her Lebanese friends fill their bags with over-the-counter medication and food items every time they travel home.
The Dubai-based airline Emirates is allowing an extra 10 kilos (22 pounds) of baggage for passengers to Beirut from certain destinations until the end of this month.
For Dima Hage Hassan, 33, a trip to Lebanon opened her eyes to the unfolding disaster.
“I was in Lebanon, and I had money, and I had a car with fuel, and I went around from pharmacy to pharmacy unable to find medicine for my mother’s ear infection,” she said.

A fellow Lebanese, Sarah Hassan, packed for her second trip home in less than two months, taking only a few personal items while the rest was supplies for family and friends.
This time, the 26-year-old was taking a couple of battery-operated fans, painkillers, sanitary pads, skin creams, and cold and flu medication.
“A couple of my friends are going as well to Lebanon, so all of us are doing our part.”
It’s the same story in other parts of the Gulf, where Lebanese have long resided, fleeing from decades of conflict and instability in their own country.
“It’s hard not to feel guilty. When I went to Lebanon a month ago, I hadn’t been for two years. When I stepped out into the city, I was so shocked,” said Hassan.
“Then you come back here to the comfort of your home and everything is at your fingertips... it’s such an overwhelming feeling of guilt.”

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

Updated 20 September 2021

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

  • The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus
  • The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad

CAIRO: Forces loyal to a powerful Libyan commander said two military planes crashed on Sunday over a village in eastern Libya, killing at least two officers.
The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus, 130 kilometers (81 miles) southeast of the city of Benghazi.
A two-officer crew, including Brig. Gen. Bouzied Al-Barrasi, was killed in the crash, while the second helicopter crew survived, the forces said in a brief statement. It did not give the cause of the crash and said the helicopters were on a military mission.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, mourned the two officers.
Haftar’s forces control eastern and most of southern Libya. The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad.
The clashes erupted last week and could further destabilize the wider Sahel region, after Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was killed in April in battels between his government and Chadian rebels.


Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

Updated 19 September 2021

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

  • Meeting was “to increase coordination in the field of border security”: Hala Akhbar news site
  • Petra said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border situation in southern Syria and fighting terrorism

AMMAN: Syria’s defense minister met Sunday with Jordan’s army chief in Amman after after Syrian troops captured several rebel-held areas near Jordan’s border, state media reported.
The Hala Akhbar news site, which is linked to Jordan’s military, reported that the meeting between Jordanian Gen. Yousef Huneiti and Syrian Gen. Ali Ayoub was “to increase coordination in the field of border security to serve the interests of the two brotherly countries.”
The recent push by Syrian troops in the country’s south is the biggest since government forces captured wide areas along the border in 2018, including the Nassib border crossing.
The crossing with Jordan was reopened in 2018, months after it fell under Syrian government control. Syrian rebels had seized the site in 2015, severing a lifeline for the government in Damascus and disrupting a major trade route linking Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the oil-rich Gulf countries.
Ayoub’s visit came nearly two weeks after Syrian forces entered the rebel-held district of the volatile southern city of Daraa as part of a truce negotiated by Russia to end weeks of fighting. In the days that followed, Syrian troops captured rebel-held parts of several villages near Daraa.
The latest push by Syrian troops brings all parts of southern Syria under full government control.
Petra, Jordan’s state news agency, said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border security, the situation in southern Syria, fighting terrorism and confronting narcotics smuggling.
Syrian state TV said the visit came at the invitation of Jordan’s army commander, adding that Ayoub was accompanied by top army officers. It said the talks focused on “fighting terrorism and border control.”
Jordan is a close Western ally and has long been seen as an island of stability in the turbulent Mideast. The kingdom hosts more than 650,000 Syrian refugees.
Earlier this month, ministers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt said after meeting in Amman that Egyptian natural gas should reach Lebanon through Jordan and Syria as soon as next month, after maintenance of pipelines and the review of a deal interrupted 10 years ago.

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TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

Updated 19 September 2021

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

  • The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday
  • Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty

DUBAI: A third tanker has sailed from Iran carrying Iranian fuel for distribution in Lebanon, TankerTrackers.com reported on Twitter on Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments, imported by the Hezbollah movement, constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The Iran-aligned group says the shipments should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday.
Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.


Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

Updated 19 September 2021

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

  • A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums
  • Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19

TEHRAN: Iran reopened museums in Tehran and other cities Sunday after a more than year-long closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Museums in Tehran and other large cities that are no longer red-coded, meaning the risk of contracting the virus was very high, reopened on Sunday,” the director of Iran’s museums, Mohammad-Reza Kargar, said.
“Tourists and visitors are welcome to return while observing (sanitary) measures.”
A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums, including 170 in the capital.
“We are absolutely delighted, and we think the people are too because they were fed up with staying home, and visiting museums improves their mood,” Kargar said in his tourism and heritage ministry office.
“We have safety protocols in place of course, and the number of visitors will be dependent on the space at our sites so the public stays safe and healthy.”
Kargar said only students, researchers and staff were allowed into museums during the past 14 months.
Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19 that forced museums to close in May 2020.
On Sunday, the National Museum of Iran with its magnificent collection of treasures dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages was still deserted.
“We have to wait for the news to spread and schools to reopen for people to come back,” explained Firouzeh Sepidnameh, head of the museum’s pre-Islamic collections.
Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, has confirmed more than 5.4 million cases of coronavirus, including 117,000 deaths, according to figures issued Sunday by the health ministry.
Out of a population of 83 million, 29 million Iranians have received a first dose of vaccination and almost 14 million have been fully vaccinated against the virus.