On Tuesday, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to extend authorization of cross-border humanitarian aid in Syria for a year. The current authorization will expire on 10 July. Authorization of aid has been done yearly since 2014, however, the latest authorization in January saw Russian and Chinese moves to close border crossings on the Syrian-Iraqi border and Jordanian-Syrian border, as well as a reduction of the duration of the authorization to six months. The other 13 members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution.
Following the veto, AFP acquired a draft of a Russian counter-proposal, which calls for the closure of the Bab al-Salam crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border, one of the two remaining Turkish-Syrian border crossings used for aid delivery. The duration of the authorization is similarly limited to six months.
The veto has been widely condemned by aid groups, with Rayan Koteiche, Middle East and North Africa researcher for Physicians for Human Rights, saying in response to the vote:
“The cross-border aid mechanism is the most viable channel to deliver aid to millions of Syrians in need. Without it, civilians who rely on lifesaving assistance will be at the mercy of the Syrian government, with whom rests the authority to approve crossline deliveries — and which has engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity that have created and deepened the humanitarian crisis in Syria.”
The veto comes after the release of a UN report accusing the Syrian and Russian governments of deliberate airstrikes on schools, hospitals and markets during their December 2019 offensive into Idlib, describing the airstrikes as “acts amounting to the war crimes of launching indiscriminate attacks, and deliberate attacks on protected objects”. Additionally, the report accuses Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group heavily involved in fighting against Syrian regime forces during the offensive, of indiscriminate shelling of civilian dwellings in regime-held areas and extrajudicial executions of captured enemy fighters.
The veto will almost certainly worsen conditions among the displaced in north-western Syria, where nearly 2.8 million people are dependent on the aid sent through the two remaining border crossings. Their suffering is only compounded by the Syrian economic crisis caused by economic collapse in neighboring Lebanon and widespread destruction caused by regime forces. Fears of a COVID-19 outbreak in the refugee camps, where poor sanitation meets lacking testing capabilities due to Russia and Damascus’ campaign of deliberate destruction of Syrian medical facilities, further highlights the urgent need to ensure the uninterrupted supply of humanitarian aid, as well as the culpability of Russia and China for their misery.