UN extends Syria aid operation mandate | News | DW | 09.07.2021

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UN extends Syria aid operation mandate

The humanitarian aid deliveries from Turkey were due to expire Saturday, but will now continue for another 12 months following a last-minute US-Russia deal.

Aid is delivered to displaced civilians

Friday's Security Council deal ensures UN aid access to millions of Syrians for the next 12 months

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) agreed Friday to extend cross-border aid deliveries into Syria for another 12 months. The UN mandate enabling the deliveries was set to expire on Saturday.

The 12-month extension was made possible by an unspecified last-minute compromise involving Russia, which has veto powers as a permanent member of the UNSC and had voiced opposition to the extension.

The UN mandate, originally established by a UN resolution in 2014, is subject to annual renewal.

Recently, Russia — a steadfast ally of the Syrian regime — used its power in the Security Council to close three of the four border crossings the UN had used to transport food and medical supplies into the country. 

Prior to Friday's unanimous UNSC vote, Russia had said the last border crossing at Bab al-Hawa in northwestern Syria should be closed. Observers warned that closing it would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Watch video 04:32

How much support is there for Assad?

Why was the mandate at risk?

Two different proposals had been floated before Friday's vote, one from Norway and Ireland calling for a 12-month extension and another from Russia that called for a 6-month extension.

Moreover, Russia had proposed that all aid first be sent to the capital, Damascus, and then distributed by the authoritarian regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

The UN and other parties rejected the idea of the Assad regime controlling the distribution of goods to the northwestern Idlib province — the last rebel stronghold in the country — saying such a scheme would leave the more than 2 million displaced Syrians in the region subject to the strongman's whims. 

"The Syrian government has shown time and time again that it has no interest in allowing humanitarian aid to go across the front lines," according to Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"On the contrary, they've done everything they could to obstruct it," he told DW.

Watch video 03:21

Misery in refugee camps in Idlib

Why did Russia agree to a compromise?

Observers at the UNSC say two factors may have played a role in Moscow's change of heart. The first is the shift in relations set in motion by US President Joe Biden, with whom Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Syria when the two met in Switzerland in June.

It has also been suggested that Moscow's political and economic ties with Turkey may have been key. Ankara has expressed fears that it would be inundated with a new wave of Syrian refugees should the Bab al-Hawa be closed.

"It seems that Russia enjoys being the kingmaker, the chief power broker here, and is able to throw its weight around and try and get concessions," said HRW's Louis Charbonneau.

Watch video 04:07

Russia enjoys being 'powerbroker' over Syria aid, HRW expert tells DW

What is the humanitarian situation in Syria?

According to the UN, Turkey already houses more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees.  

Nearly half of Syria's 22 million citizens have been displaced since the country's civil war erupted in 2011. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a group that tracks human rights abuses, some 494,438 people have been killed.

Mark Cutts, the UN's deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, told DW Friday that the decision prevented a "catastrophe" as millions of people rely on humanitarian aid. 

"I mean, we're talking about almost two million displaced people who are living in tents and makeshift shelters in horrific conditions. Many of them do not have enough food or they don't have enough clean water and medical supplies and other support."

"They're entirely reliant on this aid operation. It would have been a catastrophe if we were not able to continue this," he said. 

Watch video 05:03

'We don't think Syria is in any way a safe place,' says UNHCR spokesman

js/rt (AP, dpa, Reuters)