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UN Security Council passes resolution to resume humanitarian aid to Syria

Decision only reached after UN caved to Russian pressure to close one of two access points into the war-torn country
Camp for displaced Syrians near the town of Maarat Misrin in Syria's northwestern Idlib province (AFP)

The UN Security Council on Saturday passed a resolution to restart cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria, but only after caving to Russian pressure to close one of two access points into the war-torn country.

Following a week of division and seven ballots, the council passed a proposal submitted by Germany and Belgium allowing the use of the Bab al-Hawa crossing point for one year, but closing the border crossing at Bab al-Salam.

The measure passed with 12 of 15 votes, with Russia, China and the Dominican Republic abstaining, diplomats said.

Authorisation for the continued transport of aid to Syria, a system in place since 2014, had expired on Friday night after Moscow and Beijing used their veto power and the council then rejected a counterproposal from Russia.

'One border crossing is not enough, but no border crossings would have left the fate of an entire region in question'

- Germany and Belgium joint statement

With the approval of the German-Belgian proposal on Saturday, the Bab al-Hawa crossing point on Syria's northwestern border with Turkey will be maintained for a year, until 10 July 2021.

This will allow badly needed humanitarian aid to continue flowing to several million Syrians living in the rebel-held region of Idlib, which the Syrian government does not control.

For weeks, Russia, Syria's most important ally, had been demanding an end to the use of the Bab al-Salam border crossing, which leads to the Aleppo region in northern Syria. 

European countries and the United States had wanted to maintain both crossing points.

Acting British UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen said after the vote that the loss of aid access through the Bab al-Salam crossing would deprive "1.3 million people in northwest Syria of cross-border humanitarian assistance that they rely on".

German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen told his Chinese and Russian counterparts to report back to their capitals that he had asked: "How those people who gave the instructions to cut off the aid of 500,000 children... are ready to look into the mirror tomorrow?"

Germany and Belgium said in a joint statement after the vote: "One border crossing is not enough, but no border crossings would have left the fate of an entire region in question."

Russia fails at UN in bid to cut Turkey border aid access to Syria
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China's UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said China always had reservations about the delivery of cross-border aid, but given the current situation in Syria, it did not object to retaining it "at this stage", though he added that "it should be adjusted accordingly in light of the developments on the ground".

After the vote, the deputy Russian UN envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy said: "Russia is consistently in favour of humanitarian deliveries to Syria with full respect of the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity and with coordination of its legal government. This issue should not be politicised."

Russia has vetoed 16 council resolutions related to Syria since President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on protesters in 2011, leading to civil war. For many of those votes, Moscow has been backed in the council by China.

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