UNITED NATIONS/ DAMASCUS: Syria’s government has agreed to allow the UN to use two more border crossings to deliver aid to opposition-held north-western areas devastated by last week’s earthquakes, the UN says.
“It’s going to make a big difference. We are now using just one crossing,” a UN spokesman told media but the White Helmets rescue group criticized the UN for waiting for President Bashar al-Assad’s permission.
Many Syrians have been angry over the lack of aid for their war-torn nation.
Countries with friendly relations with Assad, including Russia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, began flying supplies to government-controlled areas of Syria soon after the earthquakes struck neighboring southern Turkey eight days ago but the opposition-held north-west where some 4.1 million people were relying on humanitarian assistance to survive even before the disaster received no aid deliveries from the UN via Turkey until Thursday.The UN blamed damage to roads leading to the Bab al-Hawa crossing, which is the only land route the UN Security Council has authorized it to use.
As of Monday, 58 aid Lorries had crossed into the opposition enclave, carrying food, tents and medicines. However, they did not include the heavy machinery and other specialist equipment requested by the White Helmets, whose first responders are leading the rescue effort there.
The use of any other crossings with Turkey has been vetoed by Russia, a key ally of Assad, and China since 2020. Until now, they have insisted that all other UN deliveries must go via Damascus and cross the front-lines, even though just 10 such convoys were approved during the whole of last year.
The UN made the announcement about using the Bab al-Salam and al-Raee border crossings – which are both controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels – after high-level talks with President Assad in Damascus on Monday.
It said the crossings would initially be open for three months.
“Very shortly we will use the other two crossings,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric told media.
“We hope that the agreement will last as long as we need to use it. We will start using it as quickly as possible and I don’t want to make any assumptions, the only thing I want to assume is that people will put politics aside wherever they stand in this conflict.”
He did not give any further details on when the two crossings would open and defended the delay in waiting for the government’s permission.
“It is our understanding that other aid organizations not affiliated with the UN have been using these border crossings. We have to operate within certain perimeters, that’s the nature of the United Nations.”
Assad did not comment on the announcement but when asked by a reporter why it had taken a week, his envoy to the UN, Bassam al-Sabbagh, replied: “Why are you asking me…? We are not the one controlling these borders.”
The head of the White Helmets accused Assad of a “cynical move that has come far too late” and criticized the UN’s decision to seek his approval.
“The UN’s insistence on waiting for the Syrian regime’s permission – the very regime that has bombed, gassed, starved, forcibly displaced and imprisoned millions of Syrians is unforgivable,” he wrote in an opinion piece for media.
“It is no secret that the Syrian regime is not a credible partner in addressing the suffering of all Syrians in a neutral and impartial manner.” (Int’l News Desk)