IDLIB, Syria (AP) — Hundreds of humanitarian workers formed a human chain on Friday stretching from a border crossing with Turkey toward a rebel-held city in northwestern Syria to protest Russia’s attempts to close the only remaining border crossing that allows aid into areas held by Syrian insurgents.
More than 2,000 humanitarian workers took part in the demonstration ahead of a July 10 deadline on whether the Bab al-Hawa crossing will remain open for aid. Syria’s government and its ally Russia want the aid to start coming through government-controlled parts of the war-torn country.
Russia has come under intense pressure from the U.N., U.S. and others who warn of dire humanitarian consequences for Syrians in the rebel stronghold if the crossing is closed. Russia says aid should be delivered across front lines within Syria, reinforcing the Syrian government's sovereignty over the entire country.
The U.N. Security Council began negotiations this week on a draft resolution that would continue to allow aid delivery through the Bab al-Hawa to Idlib and also reopen the Al-Yaroubiya crossing from Iraq to Syria’s northeast. That border crossing was closed in January last year at the insistence of Russia, Syria’s closest ally.
The Security Council had approved four border crossings when deliveries began in 2014, three years after the start of Syria's conflict. But in January 2020, Russia used its veto threat in the council to limit aid deliveries to two border crossings, and in July 2020, its veto threat closed another crossing.
“Humanitarian aid is a right,” read a large banner in English carried by aid workers on the road linking Bab al-Hawa with Idlib. Another banner read: “Those who survived the Russian shelling will be killed by the Russian veto.”
Wassim Bakeer, Health Coordinator for Violet, one of the groups participating in the human chain, said its message to the international community is “keep the lifeline open.”
He warned that the closure of the border crossing would have “catastrophic results on the humanitarian sector” that serves more than 3 million people, many of them internally displaced.
Syria’s 10-year conflict has killed about half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million. That number includes more than 5 million who are refugees outside Syria.