International pressure on Russia to leave Syrian cross-border access open

The UN and a handful of countries pressured Russia Wednesday to continue allowing authorization of the only border crossing through which humanitarian aid reaches Syria’s insurgent Idlib region, but Moscow remained adamant that such a move threatens Syrian sovereignty.

“I strongly appeal to the members of the Council to reach consensus on allowing cross border operations as a vital channel of support for another year,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council.

However veto-wielding Russia, which is allied with President Bashar al-Assad, has made clear its opposition to a further extension of the border crossing’s authorization, which allows aid to reach some three million people living in the Idlib region.

Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia maintained that the Idlib region is “a refuge for terrorists and radicalized jihadists,” insisting that the better alternative is to transport aid from Damascus through the frontlines.

Negotiations have been launched on a draft resolution — brought forth by Ireland and Norway, two non-permanent Security Council members — to extend the authorization of the Bab al-Hawa crossing, which is located on the Turkish border.

The UN authorization will require a vote before expiration on July 10, but there is great risk of a veto by Russia.

The cross-border mechanism “has been an anachronism for a long time,” Nebenzia said, rejecting the idea of an extension of the border crossing authorization, which has been in force since 2014.

Guterres, however, said that “a failure to extend the Council’s authorization would have devastating consequences. The Syrian people are in dire need, and it is essential to mobilize all our capacities, along all channels.”

The UN and West say that bureaucracy and politics make humanitarian aid delivery inoperative through Russia’s proposed Damascus route.

In a letter Tuesday to the UN chief and Security Council, approximately 30 countries called for a renewal to the cross-border authorization.

“The renewal of the cross-border mechanism is critical to ensuring direct and continued vaccine distribution to all Syrians,” the group of countries said in their letter, adding that “the elimination of the cross-border mechanism would have a crippling effect on millions of Syrians.”

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that “for millions of Syrians, Bab al-Hawa is a literal lifeline.”

“Every month, one thousand trucks carry food, nutritional assistance, clean water, and medical supplies to people living in desperate need,” she added. “Without cross-border access, more Syrians will die. We have an obligation to extend the mandate. We must vote for renewal.”

In 2020, Russia, using its veto repeatedly, implemented a drastic reduction on the number of crossing points, from four to one.

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