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Diplomats are seeking an agreement to keep vital aid to Syria going

#Diplomats #seeking #agreement #vital #aid #Syria

United Nations diplomats held final talks on Sunday about expanding Syrian cross-border aid, as residents of the country’s rebel-held north-west feared life-saving supplies could soon be cut off.

The lack of an agreement threatens to turn aid for more than two million people upside down.

The aid delivery mechanism across the Turkish border into rebel-held Syria at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing is the only way UN aid can reach civilians without navigating through areas controlled by Syrian government forces.

The system has been in place since 2014 but will expire on Sunday.

Syrian ally Russia on Friday vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have extended the mechanism by a year, and Western powers then voted against Moscow’s competing resolution that proposed extending the permit by just six months.

“Negotiations are ongoing,” a diplomat at the UN in New York told AFP on condition of anonymity.

But an ambassador, who also declined to be identified, said: “We’re stuck where we were on Friday.”

The Security Council previously extended the cross-border mechanism after it expired, and multiple sources said a vote is still possible early next week.

If the UN Security Council does not renew the approval, UN aid deliveries could be halted.

“To date, we have no information about the mechanism that will be implemented in the coming period,” said Mazen Allouch, an official at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.

– Russia stands firm –

“Aid groups that work with the United Nations and operate in liberated areas have a contingency plan” in case the UN mandate is not renewed, Allouch said, referring to parts of Syria still under rebel control.

However, their supplies are expected to last just a little “over a month,” he added.

Diplomats said the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council had proposed a nine-month extension to break the impasse Russia is bringing against the United States, France and Britain in particular amid the Ukraine conflict.

Ireland and Norway’s latest draft suggested the possibility of stopping the mechanism in January next year if the Security Council decides to do so.

But Moscow seems unwilling to back down, instead seeking a six-month extension, which may be extended.

Russia sees the approval as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty and believes that the delivery of aid should only be made from Damascus through the front line.

“Russia has not changed its position,” said an ambassador to the Security Council, asking for anonymity.

Moscow has curtailed a range of Western-backed measures in recent years, and has vetoed Syria 17 times since the war broke out in 2011.

– ‘They want to starve us’ –

“If aid is diverted by the regime (areas), we will be effectively besieged,” said Abu Mohammad, a displaced Syrian living in a camp in northern Idlib.

“They want to starve us and bring us to our knees,” said the 45-year-old father of four.

The Bab al-Hawa border crossing was closed for the second day in a row on Sunday due to the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.

When it reopens on Wednesday, it will continue to let civilians and non-UN aid convoys through, including those sent by Turkish aid groups and other international aid organizations, Allouch said.

But senior UN officials and aid workers have repeatedly stressed that such aid shipments cannot replace the scale and scope of UN operations.

On Friday, Washington’s Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the end of the mechanism would not mean the border would be closed.

“It’s the mechanism that closes,” she said.

“We will continue to look for ways to get help. We will simply no longer have this extraordinarily efficient United Nations-backed mechanism that we have used in the past,” she added.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 4,600 aid trucks, mostly loaded with food, have passed through Bab al-Hawa this year, helping about 2.4 million people.

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#Diplomats #seeking #agreement #vital #aid #Syria

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