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Friday 2 June 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# Bab al-Hawa
Rare cooperation between Russia and US sees cross-border aid to Syria continue
The approved text is an amalgam of two drafts – one proposed by Ireland and Norway, and another by Russia.

LAST UPDATE | Jul 9th 2021, 9:24 PM

world-food-programme-aid-enters-syria DPA / PA Images Aid delivered from Turkey into the north-western Syrian territories through Bab Al-Hawa border crossing. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

THE UN SECURITY Council has unanimously approved an extension of activity at the only border crossing through which humanitarian aid reaches a rebel-held part of Syria.

This stemmed from a compromise reached by the United States and Russia, both of which hailed what they called a rare and “historic” instance of cooperation between them.

The approved text is an amalgam of two drafts – one proposed by Ireland and Norway, and another by Russia.

Ensuring the continuation of the last remaining international aid crossing to Syria had been a major priority for Ireland’s two-year term on the UN Security Council, as Ireland is a co-penholder with Norway on the Syrian humanitarian aid brief.

The UN’s cross-border aid authorisation for northwest Syria, due to expire tomorrow, will now be prolonged by six months, with a possible six-month renewal.

Humanitarian organisations have been pleading for months for an extension of the UN authorisation for the crossing at Bab al-Hawa.

protest-demanding-extension-of-relief-entry-into-syria DPA / PA Images Civil society organisations protest to demand an extension to allow for humanitarian aid. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

In 2014, the UN Security Council allowed aid operations to cross at four points, but last year – after objections from Russia and China – this was reduced to just Bab al-Hawa being allowed to stay open for an initial period of 12 months. 

The United States had pressed for the border crossing from Turkey to be renewed for a full year, and sees this resolution as doing just that.

But Russia calls it only a six-month extension, with a possible six month addition depending on a report from the UN secretary general at the end of the year.

The text is the result of a compromise between the United States and Russia in last-minute talks that were broadened to bring in the other three permanent members of the council – Britain, China and France.

It extends the authorisation for six months, with an addition of six more, “subject to the issuance of the Secretary General’s substantive report, with particular focus on transparency in operations, and progress on cross-line access in meeting humanitarian needs.”

Some three million people live in jihadist-dominated northwest Syria, more than half displaced by the country’s decade-long conflict.

‘More than just talk’

For the past year, international organisations have been able to bring in medicine, food, blankets and Covid-19 vaccines through Bab al-Hawa – the only crossing for aid into the region that bypasses Damascus.

world-food-programme-aid-enters-syria DPA / PA Images Syrians store World Food Programme aid after unloading the transporting trucks that entered earlier from Turkey. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Russia, which wields veto power at the council, is a staunch ally of the Damascus regime.

Russia had preferred to see the aid delivered across front lines from Damascus, arguing the existing crossing is used to supply arms to rebel fighters.

Western countries say aid from Damascus to the northwest region is highly unlikely.

US President Joe Biden, meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin recently in Geneva, pressed for an extension of the border crossing authorisation.

This issue was seen as a test for possible cooperation between the US under the new Biden administration and Russia.

In a call between Biden and Putin today, both “commended the joint work of their respective teams following the US-Russia Summit that led to the unanimous renewal” of the cross-border aid mechanism, said a White House statement.

The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, called the deal reached at the UN “historic.”

“For the first time, Russia and the United States not only managed to reach an agreement, but they also presented a joint text supported by all the council members,” he said.

“We hope this scenario represents a turning point that will benefit not just Syria, but the entire Middle East region and the world,” said Nebenzia.

The US ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also hailed the compromise.

“It’s important that the United States and Russia were able to come together on a humanitarian initiative that serves the interests of the Syrian people,” said the ambassador, who earlier in the negotiations had pressed for three border crossing points to be open.

“And it’s an important moment for the UN and the Security Council, which today showed we can do more than just talk. We can work together to find solutions and deliver actions,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

With reporting from AFP.

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