Under the threat of a Russian veto, the US and its allies in the United Nations Security Council gave in to Moscow’s demand that cross-border aid to rebel-held areas of northern Syria seek to continue for six months instead of the West’s 12 months.
A resolution calling for a six-month extension was approved by the 15-member Security Council on Tuesday morning. Russia and China, along with 10 other members of the panel, voted in favor of the measure. The United States, Britain and France abstained.
Western officials described the resolution as a difficult compromise that will allow the United Nations to continue humanitarian aid to more than four million people in areas beyond President Bashar al-Assad’s control until January 10. Authorization to provide this aid expired on Sunday.
However, they acknowledged that the measure casts doubt on the longer-term future of the UN aid corridor. According to the resolution, the Security Council would have to vote again for the UN to continue using the channel for a second period of six months – i.e. from January 10 to July 10, 2023.
Western officials admit they don’t know if Moscow will allow aid to continue at this point. Western diplomats said they intend to seek an extension again, but would also need to make contingency plans should the aid corridor close early next year.
“The vote we conducted this morning is what happens when one Council member takes the entire Security Council hostage and the lives of Syrian men, women and children are at stake,” said Richard Mills, the US Deputy Representative at the United Nations
At issue was the UN’s continued use of the Bab-al-Hawa border crossing, the lonely corridor for shipping food, water and medicines from Turkey.
The Russians have complained that the crossing undermines Mr Assad’s sovereignty. On Friday, Russia vetoed a Western-backed measure that would have allowed the United Nations to use the crossing for a full year, and presented a competing resolution to authorize the crossing for six months.
Russian officials have called for aid to be diverted by the government in Damascus, a solution aid agencies say is untenable given Mr Assad’s history of withholding food from rebel-held areas and hampering recent aid shipments.
As Russia vetoed the Security Council and refused to deviate from the duration of UN authority to use the Bab al-Hawa crossing, Western officials said the result was the best the West could achieve.
The new resolution will result in another showdown with Russia in six months’ time when a new UN Security Council resolution will be required to resume shipments of food, water, medicines and other life-saving supplies.
“As the government has repeatedly said, it has not found a plan B for cross-border UN aid,” said Andrew Tabler, senior researcher on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This resolution comes out into the streets in the middle of winter in northern Syria, when Russian influence on humanitarian supplies will be much more scathing.”
The UN has organized the delivery of humanitarian aid to northern Syria under a series of Security Council mandates since 2014, providing a lifeline for areas of the country seized by rebels fighting Assad. The rebel-held Northwest is home to more than four million people, including many forced to flee their homes by attacks by the Russian and Syrian governments on other parts of the country.
Some Syrian nonprofit groups have expressed frustration at the increasing pressure on aid supply lines to Syria and accused the US of losing influence to the Russians.
“The Russians do this to us every time. We are negotiating something that shouldn’t be negotiable,” said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a Washington-based humanitarian and advocacy group. “This is a country that is holding every country hostage because of its veto power.”
US officials said the resolution passed on Tuesday was better than a complete shutdown of the aid pipeline and that the US had consulted with Syrian non-governmental groups ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-n-approves-shortened-six-month-extension-of-syria-aid-yielding-to-russian-demand-11657638517 U.N. Approves Shortened Six-Month Extension of Syria Aid, Yielding to Russian Demand