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Syria aid access resolution expires amid UN Security Council standoff

As Russia uses its veto, diplomats fail to find a last-minute compromise to keep aid flowing to millions in the rebel-held northwest.

An aid delivery in rebel-held Idlib, northwest Syria, in June 2021. Khalil Ashawi/REUTERS
An aid delivery in rebel-held Idlib, northwest Syria, in June 2021.

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A Security Council resolution that allows the UN to deliver humanitarian aid across Turkey’s border into northwest Syria without President Bashar al-Assad’s permission expired on Sunday, as diplomats failed to come to a deal in the face of a Russian veto. 

Russia, which has long spoken out against the cross-border aid operation as an affront to Syrian sovereignty, used its veto to stop a one-year renewal on Friday. Its own proposal for a six-month extension was voted down by the United States, Britain, and France. While negotiations continued through the weekend on a compromise, there was no vote by the resolution’s end date, 10 July.

The UN estimates that more than 4 million people live in the rebel-held northwest, which includes Idlib province and its surroundings. Many have been forced to flee their homes multiple times. Around 1.7 million are living in camps, without employment opportunities, and the vast majority of people are forced to depend on aid. According to the UN’s statistics, it delivers (along with NGO partners) food, vaccines, and other aid to 2.4 million people a month. A UN source has said that some one million people could lose food aid if the UN is forced to pull out of the region.

Read more → Why the UN Security Council must vote for Syria aid access now

A group of Syrian and international NGOs working in the northwest condemned “in the strongest terms” the failure to renew the resolution. “Members of the UN Security Council have put politics ahead of the lives of Syrian civilians, most of them children and women, who are in urgent need of life-saving assistance,” it said in a Saturday statement. “There is simply no justification for restricting aid to Syrians at a time when humanitarian needs are at their height… The job of the Security Council is to protect civilians, not to be the direct cause of suffering and loss of life.”

Sunday’s expiration doesn’t necessarily mean the end of UN aid to the region. The Security Council also failed to agree on the issue before a deadline in July 2020, despite multiple proposals and votes. On that occasion, diplomats found a compromise solution the day after the resolution expired that reduced the number of border crossings the UN could use to one – Bab al-Hawa, which is now the subject of debate.

Read more → Is Russia about to block a key aid route into northwest Syria?

While the UN and the NGOs it works with are a major provider of assistance to the northwest, other aid groups do operate in the region, including the Turkish Red Crescent, and there has been some contingency planning for a UN withdrawal. However, the UN and many other aid organisations say the role it plays in coordination, logistics, and procurement of aid will be extremely difficult to replace, at least in the short term. 

Edited by Andrew Gully.

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