BEIRUT, Feb. 14 (AP) A convoy of 11 trucks from the U.N. agency crossed into northern Syria from Turkiye on Tuesday, in the wake of an agreement between the U.N. and the Syrian government to temporarily authorize two new crossings into the rebel enclave. After a few hours.
Syrian officials in Damascus said the decision, seven days after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed thousands, showed their commitment to supporting victims on both sides of the front line.
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Critics, however, said the deal was a political victory for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who pre-empted a U.N. decision to open new crossings, giving the impression that he was finally calling the shots in rebel-held territory .
The U.N. is normally mandated to deliver aid from Turkey through a border crossing to northwestern Syria, an area devastated by 12 years of conflict before the quake.
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Renewing the mandate is a regular struggle in the Security Council, with Assad’s ally Russia arguing that all aid be routed through Damascus.
The International Rescue Committee said in a statement that the delay in opening new crossings has slowed immediate rescue and search efforts as “time for effective search and rescue is unfortunately running out”.
Asked why it took so long to increase aid access to the northwest, Bassam Sabbagh, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters, “Why do you ask me? We don’t control these borders.”
Joseph Dagher, a Swiss-Syrian researcher and professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, said Damascus’ move to open more border crossings a week after the quake was more political than humanitarian.
“This is a way for the regime to reassert its sovereignty and centrality and exploit this tragedy for its own political ends,” he said.
Britain, which has sanctioned Assad’s government and is a major backer of cross-border aid deliveries, is holding off on opening the new crossing.
“The Assad regime has a responsibility to uphold the commitments it has made,” a spokesman for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Department said.
“This interim decision is a welcome step, but in the longer term sufficient access needs to be ensured to improve the humanitarian situation.”
Ahead of the deal with Damascus, supporters have been pushing for a Security Council vote to permanently open more border crossings to facilitate deliveries – a move that would almost certainly be vetoed by Russia.
Others said the United Nations does not need a Security Council resolution to send aid across borders in emergencies.
Daher noted that the United Nations had airdropped aid to the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, which was besieged by Islamic State militants.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the attempt to “push” to permanently expand the authorized aid route.
The statement accused the United States and its allies of trying to undermine Syria’s sovereignty, and said Western countries “continue to strangle (Syria) through unilateral sanctions, triggering a massive fuel crisis, even causing ambulances to run out of fuel, and banning the import of vital supplies and equipment.”
The United States issued a license last week to allow earthquake-related relief that would otherwise be prohibited by sanctions.
The shattered enclave was without major aid for 72 hours when the quake struck because damaged infrastructure prevented the United Nations from having immediate access to its only authorized crossing point.
The White Helmets, a civil defense group in northwestern Syria, said the delay in aid and the failure of the United Nations to take extraordinary measures in the first few days cost lives as they struggled with limited equipment and manpower to rescue several people trapped under the rubble. Thousands of people.
The United Nations tried to send aid to rebel-held Idlib through government-held territory on Sunday, but it was blocked after Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the al-Qaeda-linked group that controls the area, refused to accept the aid. The suspension came from areas controlled by Assad.
The standoff, Daher said, “is politically … beneficial to both parties,” allowing the insurgents “to say, I’m not cooperating with the authorities,” while the authorities can say, “Look, we’re trying to provide assistance.”
Meanwhile, cargo planes laden with aid landed at airports in government-controlled territory, including from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt — all of which once avoided Assad and have been slowing down for years. to re-establish contact.
Charles Lister, director of the Syria Program at the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank, said the Syrian government’s decision to temporarily authorize additional crossings showed that the earthquake paved the way for a more pragmatic approach by Assad’s government.
Lister said the decision “goes against everything the regime has publicly supported over the past 10-plus years in cross-border aid delivery,” referring to Syria and Russia’s attempts to end the U.N. cross-border aid mechanism.
But he said the shift now works to Assad’s political advantage.
The Syrian government “knows it has proven to the world that the UN is not willing to do anything in Syria without the regime’s permission.”
Saria Akkad, partnerships and advocacy manager for the Ataa Humanitarian Relief Society, which works in Turkiye and northwestern Syria, said Syrians like himself now feel their advocacy to the United Nations is pointless.
“Maybe we should go back to Assad, we should talk to the man who killed his people, how can he support the people in northwestern Syria,” he said.
While he does not expect Syria to fully reintegrate into the international community without a major shift in U.S. and EU policy, List said the current crisis allowed Assad to “induce normalization” to the international community.
Syrian officials have urged the United Nations to fund the reconstruction, which Lister believes is what Damascus wants, in addition to lifting Western sanctions.
The temporary mandate ends in three months, roughly before the U.N. Security Council meets in July to review the cross-border resolution.
List argued that Assad’s deal with the U.N. would allow him to demand more in return for allowing the resolution to proceed without a Russian veto.
“I think what we saw quite frankly yesterday was that the UN politicized aid by giving it to the regime to secure access to border crossings they couldn’t control,” he said.
“It’s putting all its eggs in the regime’s basket.” (AP)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)