The vote, the UN chief stressed, “comes as humanitarian needs have reached their highest level since the start of the conflict in 2011, with people in Syria struggling with a harsh winter and a cholera outbreak,” said its spokesman Stephane. Dujarric.
All eyes were on Russia, which has historically abstained from resolutions or vetoed cross-border aid deliveries. It has sought to replace humanitarian aid crossing the Turkish border into the northwestern province of Idlib with convoys from government-controlled areas across conflict lines. Since the early years of the war, Turkey has sided with and supported the Syrian rebels.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called the decision to support the resolution “difficult”, describing the northwest as “an enclave overrun with terrorists”. The vote, he said, should not be seen as a change in Moscow’s “stance of principle” that cross-border aid deliveries – which began in 2014 – are temporary and should be replaced by Syrian government-controlled supplies.
Syrian UN Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh criticized some Western countries for “politicizing humanitarian work” and said Western sanctions have “exacerbated the suffering of Syrians”. He claimed the government has been working “relentlessly” to provide basic services to Syrians and pushed for more early recovery projects, which Russia has pushed for.
Last month, Guterres warned in a report to the council that the already dire humanitarian situation in Syria is worsening and if aid deliveries from Turkey to northwest Idlib are not renewed, millions of Syrians may not survive the winter.
He said deliveries have increased across the country’s conflict lines, but stressed they cannot replace “the scale or scope of the United Nations’ massive cross-border operation”. On Sunday, a convoy of 18 trucks entered the Idlib area through the front lines of Syrian government forces.
The resolution states that the Security Council determines that the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria continues to threaten peace and security in the region.
Guterres said humanitarian access throughout Syria — both through cross-border operations and deliveries across the front lines — should be expanded. He urged members of the Security Council and others to “continue to support humanitarian partners’ efforts to bring relief to those in need across Syria,” Dujarric said.
In July, the council passed a resolution extending the delivery of humanitarian aid to Idlib for six months, as Russia demanded. Many of those sheltering in the area have been internally displaced by the nearly 12-year-long conflict that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.
The resolution, co-sponsored by Brazil and Switzerland, will allow the delivery of aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey to northwestern Syria over the next six months, until July 10.
Speaking on behalf of the 10 elected members of the Security Council, Ecuador’s UN Ambassador Hernan Perez Loose said the resolution will address “the pressing and urgent needs of the Syrian people” but reiterated the need for “greater certainty and predictability for humanitarian organizations”.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield stressed that an extension of just six months – while the “Syrian people are breathing a sigh of relief” – will make it “more difficult and more expensive for aid workers to obtain, hire and schedule aid”. It also hinders so-called restoration projects, or restoration of critical functions that help communities recover – a key Russian demand.
“A 12-month extension is necessary for the UN, and it is necessary for our humanitarian partners and for the recipients,” she said.
David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, echoed the US ambassador, expressing relief at the cross-border renewal that will guarantee assistance during the winter, but stressed that the six-month extension “will again be short-lived.”
In addition to pushing for more cross-border aid deliveries, Russia has also pushed for early recovery projects in Syria. Guterres said in the December report that at least 374 early recovery projects have taken place nationwide since January 2021, directly benefiting more than 665,000 people, but he said more is needed.
The resolution also calls on all UN member states to respond to Syria’s “complex humanitarian emergency” and address the urgent needs of the Syrian people “in light of the profound socio-economic and humanitarian impact of the COVID-19 pandemic .”
Russia has repeatedly said that the cross-border aid deliveries that began in 2014 were temporary.
In July 2020, China and Russia vetoed a UN resolution that would have kept two border crossings from Turkey for humanitarian aid to northwest Idlib. Days later, aid delivery was reduced to just the Bab al-Hawa crossing for a year as they demanded.
In July 2021, Russia pushed for a further reduction, eventually agreeing to a six-month extension for a further six months, subject to a report from the Secretary General on the progress of cross-line deliveries. But last July, Russia pushed for UN permission for just six months.
In Syria, an Idlib-based doctor welcomed Monday’s vote.
“The decision to deliver aid across the border is the only real lifeline for northern Syria, especially for the medical sector,” said Safwat Sheikhouni.
Had the resolution not been extended, it would have been a “catastrophe” for local residents, as it would have led to the closure of most humanitarian organizations’ offices, he said.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this story.