TANZANIA – A divided U.N. Security Council failed for a second time Friday to agree on extending humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria’s mainly rebel-held northwest from Turkey as the current U.N. mandate was ending, leaving nearly 3 million people at risk of losing aid.
Russia and China vetoed a U.N. resolution backed by the 13 other council members that would have maintained two crossing points from Turkey for six months. A Russian-drafted resolution that would have authorized just one border crossing for a year failed to receive the minimum nine “yes” votes in the 15-member council, with only four countries voting in favor while seven voted against and four abstained.
Diplomats said Germany and Belgium, who insist two crossings are critical especially with the first COVID-19 case just reported in Syria's northwest, circulated a new text. That resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, would extend the mandate through the Bab al-Hawa crossing for a year and the mandate for the Bab al-Salam crossing — which Russia wants to eliminate — for three months to wind up its activities.
Council members continued discussions Friday night and diplomats said a meeting was possible Saturday to vote on the German-Belgium draft as well as likely Russian amendments.
Germann Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said the Russian vote should be “a last-minute wake-up call" for Security Council members to resolve their differences. He said Germany, which holds the rotating council presidency, was “ready to work around the clock,” and he urged council members to think of the millions of Syrian waiting for them “to decide their fate."
“To leave this weekend without a solution would send a signal of disappointment and despair to the people in the region,” Heusgen said,.
The actions Friday capped a week of high-stakes rivalry over cross-border aid.
Russia, Syria’s closest ally, has argued that aid should be delivered from within Syria across conflict lines. But the U.N. and humanitarian groups say aid for 2.8 million needy people in the northwest can’t get in that way.
The initial German-Belgium resolution authorizing two crossings for one year won support from 13 of the 15 council members on Tuesday but was vetoed by Russia and China.
A Russian draft resolution authorizing one crossing for six months failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes Wednesday. And a similar Russian amendment to the latest German-Belgium resolution was dramatically rejected Thursday, getting only two “yes” votes — from Russia and China.
In January, Russia scored a victory for Syria, using its veto threat to force the Security Council to adopt a resolution reducing the number of crossing points for aid deliveries from four to two, from Turkey to the northwest. It also cut in half the yearlong mandate that had been in place since cross-border deliveries began in 2014 to six months.
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft tweeted Friday: “Russia & China are using politics to prop up the Assad regime while more than 3 million people are in desperate need of aid. We cannot allow the Bab al-Salaam border crossing, where 30 percent of UNICEF’s aid enters Syria, to close. The lives of 500,000 children are at risk.”
The president of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, said reducing aid deliveries to just one crossing point “would cut essential health supplies to one million people, and leave the U.N. unable to scale up in response both to COVID-19 and deteriorating food security.”
“Today is yet another example of the age of impunity, where two countries can veto with full knowledge, but utter disregard, for the impact it will have on civilian lives, all against the backdrop of an unprecedented and devastating global pandemic,” Miliband said.
Without waiting for Friday’s announcement of the result of voting on the German-Belgium resolution and signaling its intent to use its veto, Russia announced late Thursday that it had circulated a new resolution that would authorize just one crossing from Turkey for a year.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, tweeted that Bab Al-Hawa “accounts for more than 85% of total volume of operations.”
“We categorically reject claims that Russia wants to stop humanitarian deliveries to the Syrian population in need,” he wrote, urging Western nations to “seize this opportunity” and support the Russian draft which adapts “to the situation on the ground.”
“If they block our compromise proposal they will be responsible for the consequences,” the Russian envoy said.