UN Syria envoy says cross-border access must stay open

AFP , Friday 25 Jun 2021

It is due to close July 10, and will require a UN vote to stay open

Turkey-Syria Border
In this April 19, 2020, file photo, shows a large refugee camp on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, near the town of Atma, in Idlib province, Syria AP

UN Syria envoy Geir Pedersen on Friday added his voice to calls to keep open the only border crossing through which humanitarian aid reaches the insurgent Idlib region, a move opposed by Moscow.

Aside from being the sole point through which aid can reach some three million people, the fate of the crossing is seen as a test of the new Russia-US relationship under the leadership of President Joe Biden.

It is due to close July 10, and will require a UN vote to stay open.

But Russia, which is allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has made clear its opposition to the move it says threatens Syrian sovereignty, may use its veto power on the UN Security Council to block it.

"Civilians across the country desperately need life-saving assistance and help building resilience. It is absolutely vital to maintain and expand access, including cross-border and cross-line operations," Pedersen told the Security Council.

"A large-scale cross-border response is essential for an additional 12 months to save lives," he said.

The authorization has been in force since 2014. But last year Moscow, using its veto repeatedly, implemented a drastic reduction on the number of crossing points, from four to the one which remains, at Bab al-Hawa on the Turkish border.

Diplomats say Ireland and Norway, non-permanent members of the Security Council, will ask in a draft resolution to keep Bab al-Hawa open for one year and to reopen a second crossing point, al-Yarubiyah, which allows supplies to reach Syria's northeast from Iraq.

The United States, France and Britain may also demand the reopening of the Bab al-Salam crossing point in the northwest, which was among those closed last year, diplomats have said.

Biden discussed the subject with Russian president Vladimir Putin at a recent summit in Geneva, and US media has suggested that keeping the crossings open could signal a shift in the relationship between Washington and Moscow, which has turned frosty since Biden came to power.

In a statement on Friday, Diana Semaan of Amnesty International stressed that stopping cross-border aid would have "catastrophic humanitarian consequences."

"We call on the Security Council to reauthorize humanitarian access through Bab al-Hawa, and to reopen the crossings at Bab al-Salam and al-Yarubiyah," she added.

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