Clash at UN Security Council over cross-border aid for Syria

EDITH M. LEDERER

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia and China are clashing with many other U.N. Security Council nations over the delivery of humanitarian aid across borders and conflict lines to more than 1 million Syrians in mainly rebel-held areas.

Since 2014, the Security Council has sent aid through four border crossings — Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa in Turkey, Al Yarubiyah in Iraq, and Al-Ramtha in Jordan.

The sponsors of this year’s aid resolution — Germany, Belgium and Kuwait — circulated a draft that has been discussed for several weeks that would add a new crossing point in Turkey and extend cross-border operations for a year.

Russia and China, which are allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad, circulated a rival resolution Monday that seeks to close the crossing points in Iraq and Jordan, leaving only two in Turkey while not adding the third proposed in the rival resolution. And it would renew the cross-border operation for only six months.

Envoys from the 10 elected members of the Security Council, which serve two-year terms, stood outside the chamber Tuesday to express support for renewing the cross-border “mechanism." They warned that “the consequences of a non-renewal of the mechanism would be disastrous.""

The 15-member council discussed the rival resolutions behind closed doors Wednesday.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the sponsors’ resolution “has little to do with the real situation on the ground” and is “unacceptable and inviable,” indicating that Moscow would veto it if it is put to a vote.

Britain’s ambassador, Karen Pierce, countered that “in the last few year the situation has not changed materially to obviate the need for cross-border aid.”

As for a fifth crossing at Tel Abyad in Turkey, she said, “we would much rather have the fifth crossing as would the U.N.”

If a compromise is needed, she said, a fifth crossing might be something that the Security Council needs to come back to at a future date.

German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said the three co-sponsors will need to come up with a resolution.

“We are not impressed by any veto threats," he said. “We ... are obliged to look at the humanitarian needs as objectively as needed."

“Our message to Russia is as it has always been before — please observe international humanitarian law and see to it that the people that are suffering in this terrible war that has lasted much too long, that this suffering can be stopped."

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report circulated Monday that “the United Nations does not have an alternative means of reaching people in need in the areas in which cross-border assistance is being provided.”

Last year, Russia and China abstained in the 13-0 vote authorizing the crossing points.

The mandate for the current resolution expires Jan. 10, and diplomats said they expect tough negotiations.

Heusgen said he expects a vote before Christmas.

Guterres said 2019 saw “a further deterioration of an already extremely difficult humanitarian situation for people throughout Syria, where over 11 million people remain in need of assistance.”

As the year draws to an end, the secretary-general said, he is “particularly concerned about the impact that a potential full-scale military offensive in the northwest could have on the already vulnerable population, while also watching with concern the impact of ongoing hostilities in the northeast, as well as increasing tension in the south.”

He said this year's humanitarian appeal for Syria for $3.3 billion is only 55% funded, at $1.8 billion, and urged donors to provide additional support.