(CNSNews.com) – The Assad regime has agreed to allow the U.N. to use two more crossings on the Turkey-Syria border to get aid to millions affected by the recent earthquakes in rebel-held northwestern Syria, U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres confirmed on Monday.
Until now the U.N. has been restricted to using just one border crossing, as a consequence of the regime’s determination – backed for years by Russia, its veto-wielding ally in the Security Council – to limit the entry of aid, citing “sovereignty” issues.
Rather than simply use other crossing points in the light of the earthquake emergency, as non-U.N. aid groups are doing, the U.N. says its hands have been tied because it lacks a Security Council mandate to use any crossings except the one approved one, Bab al-Hawa.
The U.S. pushed for the Security Council to approve more crossings, and at a closed council meeting on Monday, U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths reportedly announced Bashar Assad’s concession.
“I welcome the decision today by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to open the two crossing points of Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee from Turkey to north-west Syria for an initial period of three months to allow for the timely delivery of humanitarian aid,” Guterres said in a statement.
“As the toll of the 6 February earthquake continues to mount, delivering food, health, nutrition, protection, shelter, winter supplies and other life-saving supplies to all the millions of people affected is of the utmost urgency,” he said.
“Opening these crossing points – along with facilitating humanitarian access, accelerating visa approvals and easing travel between hubs – will allow more aid to go in, faster.”
The two newly-approved crossings are located to the northeast of Bab al-Hawa, respectively about 75 miles and 100 miles further along the international border.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield called on Sunday for more crossings to be authorized, a week after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey and northern Syria, killing more than 35,000 people in the two countries, and leaving millions homeless.
“Right now, every hour matters,” she said in a statement. “People in the affected areas are counting on us. They are appealing to our common humanity to help in their moment of need.”
Ahead of Monday’s closed council session, Thomas-Greenfield repeated the appeal, telling MSNBC she planned at the meeting to “move action on this now.”
“We called for this as early as last week,” she said. “We’re a week into this and every single minute means one more life.”
“You said 35,000 [deaths have been reported]. I heard just before coming in 36,000 have been killed. The numbers are ticking [up] every single day.”
The civil war that erupted in 2011 has left swathes of northern Syria under control of rebel groups opposed to the regime.
The earthquake caused significant damage and loss of life in parts of Syria both under rebel and regime control. A number of countries, including the regime’s closest allies Russia and Iran as well as several Gulf states, have been flying humanitarian aid into Damascus, according to the official SANA news agency.
But for years Assad and his Russian ally have argued that the entry of aid from outside going directly into rebel-held areas violates Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and have sought to limit the flow.
Damascus and Moscow say aid should be coordinated with the “legitimate government.” Critics charge that the regime has a track record of diverting aid and manipulating it for political purposes.
Aid has been entering northern Syria from Turkey under U.N. mandate since 2014, but in mid-2020, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have reauthorized two border crossings for humanitarian aid for another year. The council then voted on an alternative Russian measure that authorized just one crossing, Bab al-Hawa, and only for six months.
(Russian opposition also led to the shutdown of two other previously-approved aid routes into Syria, from Iraq and from Jordan.)
Last July, Russian again vetoed a council resolution that would have reauthorized the Bab al-Hawa crossing for a 12-month period. As a result the council has to take the step every six months, with the next vote scheduled in July.
State Department spokesman Ned Price last week questioned the need for the “semiannual exercise” of reauthorizing the crossing.
“We don’t think the world should be called upon to do it twice a year for something that is just – seems pretty basic to us, that the people of Syria should be able to receive humanitarian assistance without a twice-yearly authorization.”
Since the conflict began in 2011, Russia has vetoed a total of 17 Security Council resolutions that it views as unfavorable to the Assad regime. China has joined Russia in ten of those vetoes.
From CNSNews - READ ORIGINAL
Some media, including videos, may only be available to view at the original.