UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution Saturday authorizing humanitarian aid deliveries to Syriaâ€™s mainly rebel-held northwest from Turkey through just one crossing point, a victory for Russia in cutting another crossing that the U.N. and aid groups have called critical.
Russia, Syriaâ€™s most important ally, argued that aid should be delivered from within the country across conflict lines and just one crossing point is needed.
The U.N. and humanitarian groups argued unsuccessfully – along with the vast majority of the U.N. Security Council – that two crossing points were essential to get aid to the 2.8 million needy people in the northwest, especially with the first case of COVID-19 recently reported in the region.
The vote was 12-0, with Russia, China and the Dominican Republic abstaining – Russia most likely because two amendments it proposed were rejected.
Saturdayâ€™s vote capped a week of high-stakes rivalry between Russia and China, and the 13 other council members who voted twice to maintain the two crossings from Turkey that were in operation until their mandate ended Friday.
Both times, Russia and China vetoed the resolutions – the 15th and 16th veto by Russia of a Syria resolution since the conflict began in 2011 and the ninth and 10th by China.
Germany and Belgium, which sponsored the widely supported resolutions for two crossing points, were forced to back down by the threat of another Russian veto, and their latest draft authorized only the single crossing point from Turkey for a year.
Ahead of the vote, Physicians for Human Rightsâ€™ Policy Director Susannah Sirkin said Russia and Chinaâ€™s â€œcynical and cruel maneuveringâ€ to cut off life-saving aid using their veto power and seeking to close one critical border crossing â€œis one more tragic example of the broken U.N. humanitarian system, and a defamation of its Charter.â€
Russia, in two resolutions this week that failed to get the minimum nine â€œyesâ€ votes needed for adoption, raised the issue of U.S. and European Union sanctions against Syria and their negative impact on Syriaâ€™s humanitarian situation. The U.S. and EU vehemently objected to this allegation, saying their sanctions provide humanitarian exemptions.
The amendment proposed by Russia to the latest draft resolution asked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to include information in his reports to the council every 60 days on the â€œdirect and indirect humanitarian impact of unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria.â€
That amendment was soundly defeated with just five countries voting in favor, six against and four abstentions, diplomats said.
Russia and China were joined by Vietnam, South Africa and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in voting â€œyesâ€ while the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia voted â€œno,â€ the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the vote has not yet been publicly released.
Another proposed Russia amendment â€œrecognizing improvement in cross-line deliveriesâ€ and â€œencouraging all relevant parties to further increase cross-line humanitarian operations to all parts of Syriaâ€ was also defeated.
A Chinese amendment that would recognize measures proposed by Guterres concerning the response to â€œthe potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to conflict-affected areas, in particular his appeal for an immediate global cease-fireâ€ also failed.
In January, Russia scored a victory for Syria, using its veto threat to force the Security Council to adopt a resolution reducing the number of crossing points for aid deliveries from four to two, from Turkey to the northwest. It also cut in half the yearlong mandate that had been in place since cross-border deliveries began in 2014 to six months.
Russia has insisted from the beginning of negotiations that it wanted to cut back aid deliveries to a single crossing point for six months. Germany and Belgium wanted to maintain the two crossing points – Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam – for a year.
After the latest Russian veto on Friday, Germany and Belgium circulated a draft resolution to extend the mandate through the Bab al-Hawa crossing for a year and the mandate for the Bab al-Salam crossing – which Russia wanted to eliminate – for three months to wind up its activities.
But Russia objected to even three months, so it was eliminated, diplomats said.
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft tweeted Friday: â€œRussia & China are using politics to prop up the Assad regime while more than 3 million people are in desperate need of aid. We cannot allow the Bab al-Salaam border crossing, where 30 percent of UNICEFâ€™s aid enters Syria, to close. The lives of 500,000 children are at risk.â€
Russiaâ€™s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, tweeted Thursday that the Bab Al-Hawa crossing â€œaccounts for more than 85% of total volume of operations.â€
â€œWe categorically reject claims that Russia wants to stop humanitarian deliveries to the Syrian population in need,â€ he wrote.
He urged Western nations to support the Russian draft authorizing only the Bab Al-Hawa crossing warning that if they blocked it – which they did on Friday – â€œthey will be responsible for the consequences.â€