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UN Security Council extends Syria cross-border aid for six months

Aid agencies say the short-term extension puts more than 4 million Syrian lives on the line.
OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations Security Council voted Tuesday to continue sending cross-border aid into northwestern Syria for just six months, a win for Russia that Western diplomats and aid groups say falls short of what is needed to address the country’s humanitarian crisis

The vote marks an embarrassing defeat for the 15-member body, which on Friday rejected a similar Russian measure calling for a six-month extension of the cross-border mechanism that since 2014 has allowed the UN to send food, fuel and medicine into Syria without the permission of Damascus.

"The vote we took this morning is what happens when one council member takes the entire Security Council hostage," said US Deputy UN Ambassador Richard Mills.

"This is such a heartless play. It will only serve to hurt the Syrian people,” Mills said after the vote.

The United States and its allies on the council had pushed for a year-long renewal of the aid mission, which relief organizations said was the minimum time needed to ensure needs across rebel-held Syria are met.

“With today’s vote, innocent Syrians can breathe no sigh of relief,” British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said. “Without the confidence of at least 12 months, UN agencies and NGOs risk being caught in a perpetual cycle of pre-positioning and contingency planning.” 

Syria’s main ally Russia believes the aid operation is a violation of Syrian sovereignty. The Russian government has argued that humanitarian assistance should be channeled through Damascus, rather than across Syria’s borders.

Russia’s international isolation over its war in Ukraine has complicated negotiations this year. For months, diplomats had feared Moscow would use the July vote on Syria’s cross-border aid as retaliation for unprecedented Western sanctions. 

Ireland's UN Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason said the compromise resolution represented “a delicate balance between the different positions of council members.”

The UN’s mandate to send aid to some 4.1 million Syrians in Idlib province and the surrounding area expired on Sunday, two days after Russia vetoed a US-backed resolution to keep the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border open for 12 months.

Twelve members of the Security Council voted Tuesday for the resolution drafted by Ireland and Norway. The United States, the United Kingdom and France abstained.

The cross-border mechanism is now renewed until January 2023, with an additional six months subject to a separate resolution. The resolution also requires a briefing on the aid mechanism’s implementation every two months, and a report on humanitarian needs in Syria must be submitted to the UN secretary-general by Dec. 10.

Russia’s weakening of the aid operation comes as humanitarian needs across Syria have reached record levels. After 11 years of war, roughly 12.4 million people are considered food insecure, according to the UN’s World Food Program. 

“This unsustainable process is adding more uncertainty to an already precarious situation for vulnerable Syrians,” the charity Oxfam said in a statement. “Humanitarian organizations need more access to vulnerable people — not less.”

Editor's note: This article has been updated since first publication.

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