UN says Damascus terms for cross-border aid ‘unacceptable’

The delivery of humanitarian aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing has been stalled since Monday, when a 2014 UN agreement expired (OMAR HAJ KADOUR)

The delivery of humanitarian aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing has been stalled since Monday, when a 2014 UN agreement expired (OMAR HAJ KADOUR)

The United Nations is concerned about the “unacceptable conditions” imposed by Damascus to allow the delivery of aid through its Bab al-Hawa crossing point to rebel-held areas in northwestern Syria, according to a document examined Friday by AFP.

The delivery of humanitarian aid through the crossing has been blocked since Monday, when a 2014 UN agreement expired.

A letter from Syrian authorities this week authorizing the use of the Turkey-Syria border crossing “contains two unacceptable conditions”, according to a document sent to the UN Security Council by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). ).

OCHA expressed concern that the Syrian government had “stressed that the United Nations should not communicate with entities designated as ‘terrorists'”.

The second condition he held to was that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) should “supervise and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid” in the north- western Syria.

The UN says more than four million people in northwestern Syria need food, water, medicine and other essentials.

Through an agreement that began in 2014, the UN largely funnels relief supplies into northwestern Syria through neighboring Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

Syria announced on Thursday that it would allow the UN to use Bab al-Hawa to deliver life-saving humanitarian aid to millions of people in rebel-held areas for six months.

Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bassam Sabbagh, told reporters Thursday that his country had taken a “sovereign decision” to allow aid to continue.

– ‘Comprehensive and unrestricted’ –

The announcement follows the expiration on Monday of a mechanism that allowed UN convoys to use the crossing point to rebel areas without permission from Damascus.

The spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Stéphane Dujarric, said on Friday that “there was no passage to Bab al-Hawa with UN humanitarian aid”, adding that authorities were reviewing Syria’s clearance.

“We are reviewing … what exactly was expressed in the letter,” he said.

“These things need to be carefully considered,” he added, reiterating “the UN’s commitment to providing humanitarian assistance guided by the humanitarian principles of non-interference, impartiality.”

The OCHA document seen by AFP also called for the need to “review” and “clarify” parts of Damascus’ letter, saying the deliveries “must not undermine impartiality… to the neutrality and independence of United Nations humanitarian operations”. “

Damascus regularly denounces UN aid deliveries as a violation of its sovereignty, and its main ally, Moscow, has been scaling back the deal for years.

Russia on Tuesday vetoed a nine-month extension of the deal, then failed to muster enough votes to pass a six-month extension.

The 15-member UN Security Council had been trying for days to find a compromise to extend the cross-border aid agreement.

The conflict in Syria has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced millions and damaged the country’s infrastructure and industry.

“The scale of the needs in Syria requires a comprehensive and unrestricted approach to humanitarian aid,” the ICRC delegation in New York told AFP.

“We stand ready to provide support in a way that is within our capabilities and with the consent of all parties involved.”


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