April 19, 2024

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The Russian veto marks the end of the Turkey-based UN aid operation in Syria

The Russian veto marks the end of the Turkey-based UN aid operation in Syria

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday signaled the end of a long-running United Nations humanitarian operation in Turkey providing aid to 4 million people in opposition-held northwest Syria after it vetoed a nine-month renewal of its mandate at the United Nations. Security Council.

Then Russia failed in its bid to extend by six months the operation, which has been providing aid including food, medicine and shelter since 2014. Security Council approval for the aid delivery expired on Monday.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzia suggested that the council’s mandate for the aid operation could not be salvaged.

After vetoing the council’s six-month vote on Russia’s proposal, Nebenzia said: “If our project is not supported, we can go ahead and close the cross-border mechanism.

“We will not accept a technical extension for any period of time,” he added.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield said the United States would continue to work with all council members to renew the aid process and urged Russia to reconsider its position.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had pushed for a 12-month renewal.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric expressed Guterres’ disappointment that the council had not reached an agreement and urged members to “redouble their efforts to support the continued provision of cross-border assistance to the millions of desperately needed people in northwest Syria for as long as possible.” He said.

The authorization is required because the Syrian government in Damascus, which has close ties to Moscow, has not agreed to the UN operation on the basis of sovereignty. Security Council votes on this issue have always been contentious — in both 2020 and 2022, the mandate expired, only to be renewed a day later.

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The Security Council initially authorized aid deliveries in 2014 to opposition-held areas of Syria from Iraq, Jordan and two points in Turkey. But Russia and China have reduced that to just one Turkish border point.

Aid groups decried the deadlock in the Security Council.

“UTTER CRUELTY”

Russia and Syria have argued that the aid operation violates Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They say more aid should be delivered from inside the country, raising opposition fears that food and other aid will be controlled by the government.

After an earthquake killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria in February, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad authorized the United Nations to use two additional border crossings from Turkey to send aid. This approval expires on August 13.

The Syrian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it would now include the Bab al-Hawa crossing in its agreement with the United Nations and whether it would extend those approvals beyond August 13.

“This is for (Syria) to decide,” Nebenzia told reporters. “It’s in their hands.”

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bassam al-Sabbagh, told Reuters that Damascus would assess the situation and announce its position.

Al-Sabbagh told the council that the mandate for the aid operation should be extended for only six months, and criticized the text drafted by Switzerland and Brazil, saying it “does not reflect the aspirations of the Syrians.”

China abstained from voting on the settlement’s nine-month renewal of the aid operation mandate drafted by Switzerland and Brazil, while the remaining 13 Security Council members voted in favor.

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Only Russia and China voted in favor of Russia’s proposal for a six-month extension. Ten members of the Security Council abstained from the vote, and the United States, Britain and France voted against.

A resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, France or Britain for the Security Council to adopt.

“It is a sad moment for the Syrian people,” US Ambassador Thomas Greenfield told the council after the Russian veto. “What we have just witnessed, what the world has just witnessed, was an act of sheer cruelty.”

Assad’s violent crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protesters in 2011 sparked a civil war, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington backing the opposition. Millions of people have fled Syria, with millions more internally displaced. The fighting subsided as Assad returned to control most of Syria.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Ramy Ayoub and Mark Heinrichs

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