Russia and China have vetoed a final attempt by members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to extend approval, which expires on Friday, for humanitarian aid to be delivered through two border crossings to Syria from Turkey during the next six months.
The UN says that millions of Syrian civilians in the northwest of the country, mostly controlled by the rebels, depend on humanitarian aid delivered from Turkey, describing it as a “lifesaver”.
The remaining 13 council members voted in favor of the German-Belgian draft resolution on Friday. The UN authorization, which allows the agency to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without permission from Damascus, will expire later in the day.
Third failed vote
The 15-member council was split, with most members clashing with Syrian allies in Russia and China, who want to reduce the number of border crossings to one, arguing that those areas can be reached with humanitarian aid from Syria.
This was the third unsuccessful vote on the issue by the council and the second veto by Russia and China this week.
The UNSC first authorized the cross-border aid operation to Syria six years ago, which also included access from Jordan and Iraq. Those crosses were cut in January due to opposition from Russia and China.
On Tuesday, Russia and China vetoed an attempt to extend for a one-year approval that would have allowed the maintenance of two crossing points on the Turkish border, Bab al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab al- Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.
Russia was unable to obtain sufficient support on Wednesday for its proposal to authorize a crossing for six months.
Germany and Belgium, two non-permanent Council members responsible for the humanitarian aspect of the UN Syria file, presented the draft on Thursday for vote on Friday.
“We categorically reject claims that Russia wants to stop humanitarian deliveries to the Syrian population that needs it,” Russian MP Dmitry Polyanskiy wrote in a tweet before the vote.
A ‘death sentence for many’
The council was expected to vote on a second draft Russian text to approve aid deliveries for a Turkish crossing for one year.
Al Jazeera diplomatic editor James Bays, who reports from the UN, said that if nothing is agreed by the end of Friday, there will be no help crossing the border for a while.
UN Director Louis Charbonneau, in response to the vote, said on Twitter: “Russia and China again cynically vetoed the renewal of the UN cross-border aid mandate in Syria, this time hours before it expires.
“They politicize humanitarian aid as they accuse others of doing it elsewhere. Millions of Syrians depend on aid. This could be a virtual death sentence for many.”
. @ hrw: #Russia and #China again cynically vetoed the renewal of the UN #Syria cross-border aid mandate, this time hours before it expires. They politicize humanitarian aid as they accuse others of doing it elsewhere. Millions of Syrians depend on aid. This could be a virtual death sentence for many. pic.twitter.com/4gH1MPXQ6S
– louis charbonneau (@loucharbon) July 10, 2020
According to a statement by the Chinese ambassador, Bays said China would like sanctions relief for the Assad regime in the resolution.
“That’s one thing that would potentially change their position,” Bays said.
But because the council is virtually operating during the coronavirus pandemic, members have 24 hours to cast a vote, so a decision won’t be known until Saturday.
The NGO Oxfam warned that stopping cross-border aid would be “a devastating blow to the millions of Syrian families who depend on this aid for clean water, food, medical care and shelter.”
Russia and China argue that the UN authorization violates Syria’s sovereignty, and aid can increasingly be channeled through the Syrian authorities.
In the only concession to Moscow, the new draft requested only a six-month extension of cross-border aid authorization, instead of one year. But Germany and Belgium still wanted both border crossings to be kept open.
According to Washington UN Ambassador Kelly Craft, keeping only one border crossing open would prevent humanitarian aid to 1.3 million people living in northern Aleppo.
David Miliband, chairman of the International Rescue Committee, described the veto as a “dark day” for Syrian civilians and the UN.
He added that “it defies logic or humanity to dismantle a system designed to bring vital aid to Syrians in the form of food, health supplies, vaccines and now critical supplies of COVID-19.”
Russia has vetoed 16 council resolutions on Syria since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on protesters in 2011, leading to civil war. For many of those votes, Moscow has been backed on the council by China.