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Deal reached with Syria over key aid crossing: UN

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The United Nations (UN) has said it reached agreement with the Syrian government on aid deliveries to rebel-held areas from Turkiye, raising concern among relief groups who had wanted Damascus kept out.

Under a 2014 deal, most international aid had passed through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkiye without the authorisation of Damascus.

But last month, the Security Council failed to reach consensus on extending the mechanism, and the UN said a subsequent Syrian offer to keep the crossing open for another six months contained “unacceptable” conditions. Late on Tuesday, a UN spokesperson said that “the secretary general welcomes the understanding reached yesterday by the UN and the government of Syria on the continued use for the next six months of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing”.

The deal followed engagement between UN Humanitarian Affairs Chief Martin Griffiths and Damascus for the UN and its partners to keep providing assistance “at the necessary scale and in a principled manner that allows engagement with all parties… and that safeguards the UN’s operational independence”, the statement said.

The Syrian government’s previous conditions included that the UN cooperate with it fully and not communicate with “terrorist organisations” – a reference to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an extremist group formerly affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

Several international organisations had expressed fear that allowing Damascus control over the flow of aid to rebel-held areas could result in limiting access to those most in need.

More than four million people live in rebel-held areas of northern and northwestern Syria, many of them in overcrowded, impoverished displacement camps.

“The consent reaffirmed by Syria in recent days provides a basis for the UN and its partners to lawfully conduct cross-border humanitarian operations through Bab al-Hawa,” the UN said.

The International Rescue Committee voiced alarm at the announcement.

“We are concerned that the removal of certainty and security provided by Security Council authorisation will impact the ability of humanitarian organisations, and particularly Syrian non-governmental organisations, to operate effectively,” the relief group said.

Workers unload bags of aid at a warehouse near the Syrian Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkiye. PHOTO: AFP