On Thursday, July 13, Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bassam Sabbagh said that the Assad government would allow aid distribution via the Bab al-Hawa crossing, despite the United Nations Security Council’s failure to formally re-authorize its utilization. However, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) assessed that the Syrian government’s proposal “contains two unacceptable conditions.” Regional sources analyze Russia’s Security Council veto, Syria’s suggested compromise, and the importance of the Bab al-Hawa border:
The Daily Sabah provided context into the significance of the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, noting that “the Security Council initially authorized aid deliveries in 2014 from Türkiye, Iraq and Jordan through four crossing points into opposition-held areas in Syria. But over the years, Russia, backed by China, had pushed the council to reduce the authorized crossings to only one – Bab al-Hawa.” In response to earthquakes during February of 2023, “Assad opened two additional crossing points from Türkiye, at Bab al-Salameh and al-Rai, to increase the flow of assistance to victims, and later extended their opening until Aug. 13. However, in practice, most aid has continued to cross via Bab al Hawa.”
Explained in the North Press Agency, “the authorization of the mechanism of aid delivery expired on July 10, following the last reauthorization for six months on January 10. The following day, Russia vetoed the UN Security Council (UNSC) compromise resolution that would have extended aid deliveries through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, which connects Turkey and opposition-held northwest Syria, for nine months.”
Security Council member states have “long been divided over Syria.” According to Al Jazeera, “most members support cross-border operations, including the US and UK, which have called for a full-year extension, while Russia has insisted on just six months… China abstained on the vote for the nine-month renewal drafted by Switzerland and Brazil, while the remaining 13 Security Council members voted in favour.”
The Saudi Gazette detailed Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya’s emphasis on the importance of upholding “Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Nebenzya asserted: “Blessing the mechanism within which the terrorists from Idlib will… disallow humanitarian assistance into the enclave through crosslines; where Western countries are funding the early recovery and humanitarian projects only on those territories which are not under government control, and Syria itself is being suffocated with inhumane sanctions, is not something that we're going to do.”
The National News cited global reactions to Russia’s veto, such as that of Britain’s permanent representative to the UN, Barbara Woodward: “Russia's use of its veto to close the last border crossing for UN aid into north-west Syria has handed control of this lifeline to a leader who can close it on a whim… The priority must be getting aid through Bab Al Hawa fast to those who need it, then getting certainty over its future.” Germany’s Envoy to Syria Stefan Schneck reiterated these priorities, stating: “A Security Council resolution is urgently needed to establish a safe and secure framework for cross-border operations.”
Following the United Nations Security Council’s failure to re-authorize the crossing, Syria proposed its own solution. On July 14, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported: “The Syrian government has officially notified the United Nations that it is considering the use of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for another six months to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.”
Described in Ahram Online, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted two “unacceptable” conditions regarding Syria’s offer. Firstly, “the prohibition on communicating with groups considered ‘terrorist’ by the Syrian government would prevent the U.N. and partner organizations distributing aid from engaging ‘with relevant state and non-state parties as operationally necessary to carry out safe and unimpeded humanitarian operations.’” Further, “stipulating that aid deliveries must be overseen by the Red Cross or Red Crescent is ‘neither consistent with the independence of the United Nations nor practical’” because these entities are not active in Northwest Syria.
Rudaw highlighted the significance of aid to northwest Syria, identifying the Idlib province as “the last pocket of rebel-held territory in the region,” primarily controlled by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, an internationally recognized terrorist organization. Though the territory is overseen by nonstate actors, “the area’s residents, which include families displaced from across the country, also suffer from dire economic conditions and are heavily reliant on aid for their basic necessities.”
With access to the Bab al-Hawa crossing under threat, many “Syrians who fled President Bashar al-Assad's rule fear he may soon be able to choke off badly needed aid as Damascus acts to establish sway over UN assistance into the opposition-held northwest, the last major bastion of the Syrian opposition,” according to Asharq Al-Awsat.