The UN Security Council is expected to vote again Saturday on extending for one year its program of cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria, after Russia and China vetoed a previous measure supported by Western member states.
Authorization for the continued transport of aid to war-torn Syria, a system in place since 2014, expired Friday after Moscow and Beijing used their veto power and the Council then rejected a counterproposal from Russia.
Saturday’s vote will be on a draft text submitted overnight by Germany and Belgium which would provide for a single aid access point into Syria, down from the two that had been in use.
According to a draft copy of the resolution obtained by AFP, the Bab al-Hawa crossing point on Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey would be maintained for a year, ending on July 10, 2021.
That would allow badly needed humanitarian aid to continue flowing to several million Syrians living in the insurgent region of Idlib, which the Syrian regime does not control.
To be adopted, Saturday’s draft resolution must get at least nine of the 15 votes, with none of the five permanent members voting against the measure.
For weeks, Russia, Syria’s most important ally, has been demanding an end to the use of the Bab al-Salam border crossing, which leads to the Aleppo region in northern Syria.
European countries and the US had wanted to maintain both crossing points.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called in a tweet Saturday “on all delegations to no longer obstruct a compromise.”
The latest draft measure calls for the Bab al-Hawa crossing to be maintained “for a period of twelve months,” and would ask the UN secretary-general to report to the Council “at least every 60 days.”
UN authorization allows the international body to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without Damascus’s permission.
But Russia and China argue that the authorization violates Syria’s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channeled through Syrian authorities.
Western member states reject Russia’s arguments that authorization for cross-border aid violates Syrian sovereignty.
Those countries maintain that there is no credible alternative to the cross-border system and argue that Syrian bureaucracy and politics are preventing an effective flow of aid in areas not controlled by the Syrian regime.
In a vote Saturday morning, the Council rejected amendments to the draft from Russia and China.
Moscow notably wanted a mention in the resolution of the impact of unilateral sanctions on Syria — an implicit jab at the United States and Europe. Along with Russia and China, that proposal was approved by Vietnam, South Africa and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, but fell short of the nine votes needed.
China, for its part, had called for an amendment highlighting the work of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, “in particular his appeal for an immediate global ceasefire.”
In January, Moscow succeeded in having the crossing points reduced from four to two and in limiting the authorization to six months instead of a year.
This week Russia and China exercised their veto rights as permanent members twice — on Tuesday and Friday — even as NGOs and Western countries accused them of politicizing a humanitarian issue.
Friday’s vetoes by Moscow and Beijing marked the 16th for Russia and 10th for China on texts linked to Syria since the war began in 2011.
In a report in June, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a one-year extension of the aid to include the two current access points.
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