The U.N. Security Council on Saturday approved a resolution authorizing an international program that will deliver aid to the rebel-held northwest Syrian province of Idlib through one border crossing.
However, the majority of the council, including the U.S., wanted to reopen another border crossing with Turkey and a third on Syria’s northeast border with Iraq in order to get aid to an estimated 1.3 million Syrians in need of medical supplies.
The Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Idlib province will remain open to humanitarian aid for one year. The other two crossings, Bab al-Salama between Turkey and Syria’s Aleppo province, and al-Yaroubia, between northeast Syria and Iraq, will not be reopened.
The Security Council vote Saturday came after previous efforts to reauthorize the opening of Bab al-Hawa and al-Yaroubia failed by vetoes from Russia and China.
Local officials in northeast Syria say blocking aid through al-Yaroubia crossing would throw the already-volatile region into further uncertainty.
“With this decision, we are literally left alone to deal with an unfolding catastrophe,” said Luqman Ehmi, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in North and East of Syria.
“The Security Council failed to address what our region has been experiencing for a long time, and this is a very negative move against us,” he told VOA.
The semiautonomous region is under the control of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a major U.S. partner in the fight against the Islamic State terror group. The partnership was key to liberate much of eastern Syria from IS militants.
Kelly Craft, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said the U.S. “cannot disguise our disappointment at the loss of the Bab al-Salama and al-Yaroubia border crossings, which puts millions of Syrian women, children and men at risk.”
“To them, I say we will never back down. We will always have hope for your future and will continue to stand with you,” she said in a tweet after the Saturday vote.
Russia, a major backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has insisted that all international aid go through Damascus.
Humanitarian groups and officials, however, say the Syrian government monopolizes aid for political purposes.
They add that the decade-long conflict in Syria and the recent outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic have created a major humanitarian crisis in the country, including the northeast.
“The Syrian regime continues to impose high tariffs on anything that enters our region, including medical supplies,” said Kurdish spokesman Ehmi.
Kemal Derbas of the Kurdish Red Crescent, one of the largest humanitarian groups that provides medical care to refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDP) in northeast Syria, says relying on Damascus for receiving international aid has proved futile.
“The Syrian regime doesn’t recognize most of the humanitarian groups that operate in northern Syria,” Derbas told VOA.
“This forces the World Health Organization (WHO), for example, to redirect its support to regime-held areas. The WHO used to deliver some aid and funding to us through al-Yaroubia border crossing, but after this Security Council voting it is no longer an option,” he said.
Some medical aid groups have shut down their operations because of a lack of funding, Derbas said, noting that about 300,000 IDP and refugees in northeast Syria will have no adequate access to medical services.
‘De facto embargo’
Some observers say the recent U.N. decision represents a de facto embargo on those Syrian regions that don’t have access to aid.
“People in SDF-held areas in northeast Syria will be deprived from much needed international aid” at a critical time, said Siruan Hadsch Hossein, a journalist at the local radio station Arta FM.
He told VOA that millions of civilians in northeast Syria, including hundreds of thousands in refugee camps, will immediately suffer the consequences of the U.N. move.
“This voting proves that the international community is not ready to find a resolution for the Syrian conflict,” Hossein said. “It is disgraceful that certain members of the Security Council such as Russia use humanitarian aid to score political points.”