UN chief says Syria’s Assad agrees to expand access to UN aid from Turkey

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to allow United Nations aid shipments to opposition-held north-west Syria through two border crossings from Turkey for three months, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday.

Assad has agreed to open the Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee crossings, Guterres said in a statement after UN Secretary General Martin Griffiths met with the Syrian president in Damascus on Monday. Griffiths briefed the UN Security Council on Assad’s decision during a closed meeting, diplomats previously told Reuters.

The move comes a week after an earthquake in Turkey and Syria killed more than 37,000 people. Assad’s approval means the United Nations can now use a total of three border crossings from Turkey to reach northwest war-torn Syria.

The United Nations already has a Security Council mandate to use the Bab al-Hawa crossing point. Since 2014, she has used this route to help millions of people in need across the North West. The Security Council approved the mandate after the Syrian government opposed the measure.

“As the toll of the February 6 earthquake continues to mount, the delivery of food, health, nutrition, shelter, shelter, winter supplies and other life-saving supplies to all the millions of people affected is of the utmost urgency,” Guterres said.

“Opening these border crossings — along with facilitating humanitarian access, speeding up visa approvals and making travel between hubs easier — will allow more aid to come in faster,” he added.


Aid has reached government-held areas affected by the earthquake. But the rebel-held Northwest has received little help. A source for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Islamist group that controls much of the region, said the group would not allow supplies across the front lines from government-held areas.

The Syrian government has long opposed aid shipments across its border to opposition-controlled areas, calling it a violation of its sovereignty. It states that more aid should be delivered across the front lines of the 12-year civil war.

Griffiths signaled over the weekend that he would seek Security Council approval for expanded access from Turkey if the Syrian government disagreed.

French Ambassador to the UN Nicolas de Riviere said that if Assad’s agreement is not implemented in a transparent and sustainable manner without obstacles, the Security Council should consider adopting a resolution authorizing access.

Each resolution would need nine yes votes and no veto by Russia, China, the United States, Britain or France to pass.

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said a resolution is not needed now “because it is a sovereign decision by Syria”. He said the current Security Council has ordered UN aid access through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, which is a violation of Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Polyanskiy said any pressure for a solution would politicize the problem and not help Syrians.

Syria’s Ambassador to the UN, Bassam Sabbagh, confirmed that for three months Syria would support the delivery of humanitarian aid through any possible points inside Syria or across the border. He told reporters that a Council resolution was not necessary as it was an agreement between Syria and the United Nations.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Kanishka Singh, David Gregorio, and Lincoln Feast.)


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