Intel: Russia, China holding UN ‘hostage’ on Syrian aid deliveries, US envoy says

al-monitor New US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft casts a vote during her first UN Security Council meeting at UN headquarters in New York, US Sept. 12, 2019. Photo by REUTERS/Mike Segar.

May 22, 2020

Continued Russian and Chinese obstruction at the UN Security Council imperils the millions who depend on humanitarian aid in Syria, said US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft. 

Speaking at a virtual event hosted by the Hudson Institute Thursday, Craft lashed into Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s backers on the Security Council ahead of a key vote on vital aid deliveries into Syria. 

“Russia and China are continuously holding the Council hostage on this,” she said. “It’s strictly because of their geopolitical interests, and I have to shine a light on it.” 

In 2014, the Security Council set up four entry points for the UN and other agencies to deliver supplies to opposition areas without having to go through the Syrian government for permission. Then in January, faced with a veto threat from Russia and China, the UN Security Council voted to halve the number of official border crossings. 

The decision left just two routes — Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam — to bring supplies in from Turkey to the rebel-held northwest.

Craft’s criticism came as the United Nations prepares for a July 10 vote to reauthorize those two remaining cross-border lifelines. The fear is, Assad’s patrons on the Security Council will wield their veto authority to choke off remaining aid to Idlib province by eliminating the UN-approved checkpoints.

Why it matters:  Further cutting what little humanitarian assistance makes it to the region would be catastrophic for those who live there. A renewed government offensive in December uprooted close to one million people in Idlib, pushing them deeper into poverty and hunger. Many are now living in informal, overcrowded settlements along the Turkish border

Continued aid deliveries are also vital should the northwest enclave get hit with a COVID-19 outbreak. So far, Idlib appears to have been spared, but doctors on the ground have warned their bombed-out hospitals are in no way equipped to battle the virus if and when it reaches them.

Meanwhile, the US is also seeking to reopen the Iraq-Syria crossing known as Yaroubiya, which served as a vital supply route to northeast Syria before it was shuttered in January. Since its closure, the UN estimates medical supplies are reaching just 31% of facilities that previously depended on Yaroubiya. 

Its reopening would take away some of Assad’s leverage in the Kurdish-controlled zone. Currently, going through Damascus is only the route to the northeast, and the regime has repeatedly succeeded in obstructing the supply line. Giving the Kurdish authorities another way to receive aid — Yaroubiya — would prevent them from having to cooperate with the Syrian government on future aid operations.

What’s next: Craft added that UN negotiators were discussing the possibility of holding a separate meeting and introducing a third resolution specific to Yaroubiya.

“We are very, very hopeful that we’ve started early enough,” said Craft. “You have to keep the refugees in the back of your mind when you’re doing this because there are days when you just think, I just don’t know this is going to happen.”

Know more: Senior Correspondent Amberin Zaman provides a look at lobbying efforts at the UN over the upcoming cross-border vote. Be sure to read Pentagon Correspondent Jared Szuba’s report on how the US military believes Russia and the regime are fomenting Arab discontent in eastern Syria to undermine the Kurdish-led administration.

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