Rus­sia, China veto U.N. aid pro­gram in Syria

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY KAREN DEYOUNG AND SARAH DADOUCH karen.deyoung@wash­ sarah.dadouch@wash­ Dadouch re­ported from Beirut.

In­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to mil­lions of dis­placed and des­ti­tute Syr­i­ans was threat­ened with im­mi­nent shut­down af­ter Rus­sia and China on Fri­day ve­toed a last-minute U.N. Se­cu­rity Council res­o­lu­tion to ex­tend a six­month agree­ment al­low­ing aid flows into north­west Syria that was due to ex­pire at mid­night.

One of the world’s largest hu­man­i­tar­ian op­er­a­tions, the cross­bor­der ship­ments of food and med­i­cal sup­plies as­sist at least 3 mil­lion Syr­i­ans, the ma­jor­ity of them women and chil­dren. Most have fled from other parts of Syria into the coun­try’s north­west cor­ner, the last ma­jor re­doubt that has not fallen to the forces of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-as­sad, and his Rus­sian and Ira­nian al­lies, dur­ing the nine-year civil war.

The re­gion’s al­ready dire cir­cum­stances wors­ened this week with con­fir­ma­tion of the first case of the novel coro­n­avirus — a physi­cian who en­tered Syria late last month to work in one of the re­main­ing area hos­pi­tals.

Af­ter the 13-to-2 tally, the council im­me­di­ately be­gan closed-door con­sul­ta­tions that ex­tended into the night and ap­peared likely to con­tinue early Satur­day. Diplo­mats said that, de­spite the dead­line, con­voys that pass con­tin­u­ously across the Turk­ish bor­der would likely con­tinue for at least a day or two as ne­go­ti­a­tions were un­der­way. But with­out a council man­date and a means to safely en­ter Syria, the many in­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies that op­er­ate there un­der the U.N. um­brella would have few if any op­tions.

The Fri­day vote came af­ter three ef­forts to pass com­pet­ing res­o­lu­tions sub­mit­ted by the West and Rus­sia failed ear­lier in the week.

“With their reck­less brinkman­ship, Moscow and Bei­jing are gam­bling with mil­lions of Syr­ian lives,” Kelly Craft, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, said in a state­ment. “They have de­lib­er­ately stood in the way of this council’s abil­ity to get life­sav­ing food and medicine into Syria. This heart­less­ness shouldn’t sur­prise any of us, yet I am shocked each time my col­leagues from both coun­tries choose to blithely threaten the lives of mil­lions.”

In its own state­ment, Rus­sia’s U.N. em­bassy blamed the stale­mate on the re­fusal of the United States and oth­ers to lift sanc­tions against As­sad’s gov­ern­ment and to rec­og­nize its sovereignt­y by fun­nel­ing all in­ter­na­tional aid through Da­m­as­cus rather than di­rectly to Syr­i­ans in need.

Af­ter a sim­i­larly con­tentious de­bate in De­cem­ber, Rus­sia agreed that U.N. agen­cies could use two of what had been four bor­der cross­ings.

In the in­ter­ven­ing months, con­di­tions in the north­west have wors­ened, as Rus­sian and Syr­ian air­craft bom­barded the area, in­clud­ing hos­pi­tals, other med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties and schools. Large num­bers of civil­ians, many of them al­ready dis­placed by con­flict else­where in the coun­try, fled to­ward the closed Turk­ish bor­der.

Moscow and Da­m­as­cus main­tained that the at­tacks were against ter­ror­ist groups that have come to dom­i­nate the re­main­ing Syr­ian op­po­si­tion forces in the re­gion. They in­clude Hayat Tahrir al-sham, the lead­ing Is­lamist mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tion, des­ig­nated a ter­ror­ist group by the United States and the United Na­tions.

In the wake of the bom­bard­ments, a newly re­leased U.N. re­port said that HTS “in­dis­crim­i­nately shelled densely pop­u­lated civil­ian ar­eas,” and “de­tained, tor­tured, and ex­e­cuted civil­ians ex­press­ing dis­sent­ing opin­ions. . . .

“What is clear from the mil­i­tary cam­paign is that pro-gov­ern­ment forces and Un-des­ig­nated ter­ror­ists fla­grantly vi­o­lated the laws of war and the rights of Syr­ian civil­ians,” the re­port said.

The United Na­tions pro­vides co­or­di­na­tion and lo­gis­tics for the large-scale aid op­er­a­tion, with a wide range of gov­ern­ments and non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­vid­ing money and sup­plies.

As de­bate over the ex­pir­ing aid res­o­lu­tion be­gan early this month, Rus­sia, backed by China, in­sisted that the aid cross­ings were no longer needed and that Da­m­as­cus should be rec­og­nized as the le­git­i­mate re­cip­i­ent of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. The United States and oth­ers ac­cuse the As­sad gov­ern­ment of si­phon­ing off the ma­jor­ity of as­sis­tance it has re­ceived and have said they will pro­vide it with no aid un­til it agrees to a U.n.-man­dated po­lit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion to the war.

Bar­gain­ing be­gan with the in­tro­duc­tion of a Ger­man-belgian res­o­lu­tion that would al­low both ex­ist­ing bor­der cross­ings to re­main open for 12 months. All but Rus­sia and China voted for it.

That was fol­lowed by a Rus­sian pro­posal call­ing for one of the two cross­ings to re­main open for six months, and agree­ment for the U.N. sec­re­tary gen­eral to re­port on the eco­nomic ef­fect of sanc­tions on Syria. It re­ceived only four of the council’s 15 votes, with Viet­nam and South Africa join­ing Rus­sia and China.

Ger­many and Bel­gium coun­tered with a new res­o­lu­tion, for two cross­ings for six months. Rus­sia of­fered an amend­ment — one cross­ing for six months. The amend­ment was de­feated, with sup­port only from Moscow and Bei­jing. Viet­nam and South Africa abstained.

Fri­day’s failed vote was on the last Ger­man-belgian pro­posal.

In­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies be­moaned the fail­ure and warned of catas­tro­phe with the ap­pear­ance of the coro­n­avirus, from which the re­gion had largely been spared. Even if agree­ment is even­tu­ally reached to leave one cross­ing open, “it will not be pos­si­ble to scale up the covid-19 re­sponse,” said Tue Jakob­sen, who man­ages hu­man­i­tar­ian op­er­a­tions in the re­gion for CARE.

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