UN gets green light to keep aid to Syria rebel zones

AFP , Wednesday 9 Aug 2023

The United Nations said Tuesday it secured a green light to keep sending aid into earthquake-hit Syrian rebel zones, with two border crossings renewed and talks underway on a third blocked since last month.

Children stand near their tent at the Sahlat al-Banat makeshift camp for internally displaced people set-up next to a waste dump on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Raqa, on July 10, 2023. AFP


Syria agreed to a second three-month extension of two border crossings that were opened to UN humanitarian workers after the February earthquake and had been due to close on August 13.

"We greatly welcome the extension of permission by the government of Syria to utilize the Bab al-Salam and Al-Rai border crossings until November 13," said Eri Kaneko, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The February 6 quake in Turkey and Syria killed more than 55,000 people. After criticism of slow aid, Damascus agreed to the two border crossings to let in supplies including tents, blankets and anti-cholera kits.

Syria -- already devastated by more than a decade of a civil war that has left half a million people dead -- needs some $15 billion to recover from the earthquake, according to a UN assessment released in May.

The UN Security Council voted in 2014 to authorize four border crossings to let aid into rebel-held areas of the north and northwest, where more than four million people live.

Under pressure from Russia, the main international ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, only one crossing -- Bab al-Hawa -- remained open by 2020 as Damascus sought to re-exert its authority.

That crossing shut to aid in July after Russia vetoed a nine-month extension and failed to muster votes to adopt a measure that would last just six months.

Syria said it would still temporarily allow use of the crossing, but the United Nations denounced conditions as unacceptable.

The conditions included that the United Nations cooperate fully with the Damascus government and not communicate with "terrorist organizations" -- a reference to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the jihadist group formerly affiliated with Al-Qaeda that effectively controls the crossing.

But a UN spokesman said Tuesday that the United Nations was in communication with Damascus about a way forward on Bab al-Hawa.

"We're working with the government of Syria to resolve any issues. At this stage, basically, we're standing ready to resume our aid operations," spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.

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