UN Security Council finds compromise on border crossing aid delivery operations

Syria rejects “politicised mechanism”

by Karin Leukefeld, Bonn and Damascus

After weeks of disagreement as to whether the “humanitarian corridor” leading from Turkey to Idlib via Bab al-Hawa crossing point be closed, the UN Security Council last Friday adopted a compromise.1
  The new UN Security Council Resolution 2585 (2021) intends to continue aid delivery operations for an initial period of six months. An extension for another six months is subject to the issuance of a report by the UN Secretary-General after six months.
  The report should debate on whether transparency is ensured in the control of border crossing aid delivery operations. Specifically, it should include details on the distribution mechanism, the number of beneficiaries, operating partners in Idlib involved in border crossing aid deliveries, locations where aid deliveries are stored and from where they are distributed and the volume and nature of items delivered. Furthermore, the report should provide information on the implementation of efforts to improve all modalities of “cross-line” humanitarian deliveries inside Syria and “early recovery projects”.

30 minutes of debate

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield welcomed the fact that the United States and the Russian Federation were able to come together on a crucial matter long debated in the UN Security Council. The compromise was also important for the broader United Nations beyond the specific issue, the ambassador said, showing that “we can do more than just talk.”
  Russia’s UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya expressed similar satisfaction. He said Russia was satisfied that the Council managed to reach an important point of convergence on such a complex topic. “We are grateful for this,” Nebenzya said. The US delegation worked “in the spirit of the commitments achieved during the recent summit held between Presidents Vladimir V. Putin and Joseph R. Biden” in Geneva, a non-official UN transcript of the council meeting said. Through the adoption of the new resolution, the Council had given the green light for the ultimate replacement of the cross-border mechanism with cross-line aid deliveries inside Syria. This would be in line with the core principles of UN international humanitarian law.
  British UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward nevertheless emphasised that Syria remains one of the most dangerous countries for humanitarian workers and called for maximum efforts to ensure their safety inside the country. Mexican UN Ambassador Alicia Guadalupe Buenrostro Massieu welcomed that renewal of the Bab al-Hawa crossing will afford “certainty to the planning and budgeting for humanitarian action”. French UN Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière expressed regret that, at least temporarily, only one border crossing instead of the requested three ones were reopened. Again, he insisted that France and its European partners would not finance reconstruction in Syria or lift sanctions if a credible political process was not launched pursuant to resolution 2254 (from 2014). Like his Mexican predecessor, de Rivière rejected the idea that after six months the UN Secretary General’s report should provide details on specific humanitarian partner organisations.
  The Indian UN representative T. S. Tirumurti, on the other hand, called for enhanced assistance to all citizens of Syria, which was once a “fulcrum of Arab culture” and a leading voice in the region. Discrimination, preconditions, and the politicization of assistance to Syria had to come to an end, he said. The adopted Resolution 2585 would reassure the people of northwestern Syria, he said, but the Security Council also had to reflect on the rest of the country, which was in dire need of reconstruction aid. Stability would only be achieved if Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity be preserved, this being the only way to ensure that external actors refrain from further destabilising the situation in Syria.
  Similar comments were made by the Chinese UN representative Zhang Jun. The cross-border aid deliveries were based on an exceptional arrangement that was controversial both politically and legally. There had to be a transition to cross-line delivery of humanitarian aid within Syria. However, the unilateral sanctions (imposed by the EU and the USA) against Syria were the main obstacle to improving the country’s humanitarian situation.

Who receives the aid?

According to OCHA, more than 1,000 trucks with food, medicine “and other goods” reach Idlib province every month. They pass through Bab al-Hawa border crossing point, controlled on one side by Turkey and on the other side by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The aid deliveries via Bab al-Hawa are intended exclusively for Idlib and for the areas of Afrin, Azaz, and Jbeil Saman in the northwestern province of Aleppo. These areas are controlled by Turkey and armed jihadist opponents of the government called “rebels” by Western media and politicians.
  Since January 2018 Afrin has been occupied by Turkey and an army of jihadists who had previously waged war in Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus. Before these troops invaded Afrin, up to 300,000 Syrian Kurds lived there. Today, they are living as internally displaced persons in camps of Tell Rifaat or in Sheikh Maqsood, a Kurdish neighbourhood under self-government in the north of the city of Aleppo. The “border crossing aid delivery” is not intended for them.
  The city of Azaz has been a hub for Western intervention in the name of humanitarianism since the war’s beginning in 2011. Weapons, fighters and assistance were smuggled in via the town, which is close to the Syrian-Turkish border crossing Bab al-Salam. The German organisation “Grünhelme” has been at the forefront in Azaz since summer 2012. In the meantime, Azaz is considered the headquarters of the Western-backed “government-in-exile” launched by the National Council for Revolutionary and Oppositional Forces of Syria (Etilaf) based in Istanbul.
  Idlib is controlled by HTS. The organisation was previously known as the al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and a Syrian offshoot of al-Qaeda. Since the beginning of the war the leader of HTS and its various predecessor organisations has been Saudi-born Syrian Abu Mohammad al-Julani. In 2003, he joined al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and eventually became a POW of the US-led war alliance against Iraq. Released from the British-run Bucca Prison Camp in Basra in 2008, he, together with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, eventually rebuilt the since then crushed Islamic State in Iraq. It became the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Al-Julani is an internationally listed Islamist terrorist, and the US has offered a $10 million reward for his capture.
  Meanwhile, al-Julani is offering himself to the West as a “partner against Assad”. In December 2015, al-Julani, then still the leader of the al-Nusra Front, was interviewed extensively by the Qatari news channel al-Jazeera wearing a combat dress. Two more extensive interviews of al-Julani followed in February 2021 with U.S. television station PBS and its frontline journalist Martin Smith. This time, the fighter wore a suit and a white shirt without a tie and stated that he wanted to establish relations with the West. He offered the US to put his combat unit, HTS, at the service of the Western alliance to fight Assad and his allies Russia and Iran. Passages from the interview were published in the PBS feature “The Jihadist”2.
  Al-Julani claims to have 10,000 men under arms, offering them to the West as allies. In the meantime, the “salvation government” installed by HTS is recruiting young men from families who had sought shelter from the war as internally displaced persons in Idlib, but who do not see themselves as supporters of HTS ideology. Those who keep on supporting the Syrian state in Idlib suffer persecution.

Humanitarian corridors strengthen the power of the jihadists

The humanitarian corridors to Idlib called for by UN diplomats and Western states and their aid agencies directly benefit HTS and al-Julani and consolidate its power. HTS collects customs duties from trucks entering Idlib via Bab al-Hawa. The relief goods provide the population with basic supplies that HTS and its supporters do not have to worry about. At the same time, the families and supporters of HTS fighters and officials also benefit from the aid. Newly established companies in the computer, telephone, electricity or water supply sectors under HTS control benefit from the material and financial reconstruction aid, which reaches Idlib and elsewhere via the “Syrian Reconstruction Fund” (SRTF). The money is administered by the German Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) and distributed according to contractual agreements that KfW has concluded with the “National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces” (Etilaf) based in Istanbul.
  Although the organisation and its leader al-Julani are internationally listed as terrorist, close relations already exist between them and Turkey, Etilaf and the Western “friends of Syria” such as the USA, Great Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other states. The US and its partners in Europe, Israel and the Arabian Gulf are supporting forces in Idlib and around Aleppo that want to create an “Islamic State” and secede from Syria. In the northeast of Syria, they are promoting a “Euphrates province” that is to profit from Syrian oil, wheat, water and cotton. Meanwhile, NATO partner Turkey is colonising parts of northern Syria and forming a new army with jihadists.

A huge operation

A few days before the UN Security Council vote, the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Prevention Janez Lenarcic had visited Bab al-Hawa. There was no “viable alternative” to the border crossing, he said. “It is a huge operation.”3
  According to the German Foreign Office, Germany is the “second largest humanitarian donor” in humanitarian aid for Syrians in Syria and in camps in neighbouring countries. In 2020, the German government provided 672 million euros, more than 102 million euros for the northwest of the country. At the Brussels donor conference for Syria and neighbouring countries, Germany made the largest pledge of 1.738 billion euros and will continue to make a substantial contribution to financing the aid plans drawn up by the United Nations.
  But, as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated in a G-7 statement at the end of May, Germany will not participate in reconstruction measures in areas of Syria controlled by the government, nor will it lift the unilateral sanctions against the country, which are not legitimised under international law. This does not apply to Idlib, Azaz, the jihadist-Turkish-controlled hinterland of Aleppo and the Kurdish-US-controlled northeast of the country.

Syria is not heard

It is one of the rituals of the UN Security Council that representatives of the countries whose situation and future are being debated can be present and speak at the debates, but have no right to co-decide on resolutions. In the past, the Western UN ambassadors had more than once demonstratively left the room when the Syrian representative took the floor.
  Acting Syrian UN Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh stressed during the debate on 9 July that Russia and China had pointed out important aspects of the humanitarian problems in Syria, including the effects of COVID-19 and the unilateral sanctions. Western states ignored these aspects. Their insistence on the cross-border mechanism “serves their interests and not the alleviation of the suffering Syrian people”, Sabbagh said. Calling the mechanism a “lifeline” would be tantamount to “psychological blackmail” of public opinion in their countries. The preservation of Syria as a sovereign and independent state is persistently disregarded, he said.  •

1 https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sc14577.doc.htm
2 https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/the-jihadist/
3 https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/syrian-arab-republic-united-nations-cross-border-operations-under-66

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