Russia and West in showdown over aid to Syria’s rebel area

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Russia and the West are in a showdown over continuing the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria’s mainly rebel-held northwest after the current United Nations (UN) mandate expired yesterday.

Germany and Belgium on Thursday called for a vote on a draft resolution that would maintain the two border crossings from Turkey to the northwest for six months – a position supported by the UN secretary-general, UN humanitarian chief, and many aid organisations.

Without waiting for the result, Russia announced late Thursday that it had circulated a new resolution which would authorise just one crossing from Turkey for a year. It put the draft in a form that can be put to a vote.

A series of tweets from Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky announcing the new Russian resolution and urging Western support strongly indicated that Moscow will veto the German-Belgium draft.

Russia, Syria’s closest ally, has argued that aid should be delivered from within Syria across conflict lines. But the UN and humanitarian groups said aid for 2.8 million needy people in the northwest can’t get in that way.

The German-Belgium resolution being voted on would extend the mandate for the two border crossings from Turkey to the northwest – Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa – for six months. The Russian-drafted resolution would only authorise cross-border deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, for a year.

Germany’s UN ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, said on Wednesday that while the Bab Al-Hawa crossing is used to deliver aid to Idlib province, the Bab al-Salam crossing reaches the region north of Aleppo, where an additional 300,000 Syrians displaced by the last offensive are now sheltering. “Both areas are separated by conflict lines,” he said.

File photo shows local residents receive humanitarian aid from the Russian military in the town of Al-Rastan, Syria. PHOTO: AP