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Syria: Northwest faces 'uncontrollable famine' after Russia vetoes cross-border aid

Authorisation for cross-border aid set to end on Sunday as UN Security Council fails to agree extension
Syrian Muslim pilgrims arrive at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey on 22 June 2022 as they head to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage (AFP)

A humanitarian catastrophe awaits in northwestern Syria following Russia's veto on much-needed aid to the region, residents and international bodies have warned.

On Friday, Russia vetoed a draft resolution at the UN Security Council that would have extended the authorisation for cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria by one year.

Moscow instead said it would accept only a six-month extension on the authorisation, which is set to expire on Sunday.

The UN cross-border system has been in effect since 2014 and helps more than 2.4 million people in the Idlib region, which is under the control of various militant and rebel groups opposed to the Syrian government.

More than 4,600 aid trucks, mainly carrying food, have passed through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Turkey border this year, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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Mazen Allouche, described by AFP as an official at the border crossing, told the news agency the move embodied "the policy of siege and starvation to which Russia resorts throughout Syria".

He said that failure to renew the authorisation would be "a prelude to an uncontrollable famine and would directly threaten the food security of more than four million people".

In a statement, aid group Syria Relief warned of the "devastating humanitarian impact" on the region if the authorisation was not extended.

“Time is running out. We implore the Security Council to authorise cross-border assistance to prevent a completely avoidable and unnecessary humanitarian catastrophe," said Syria Relief chief executive Othman Moqbel.

Urgent relief needed

Following Russia's veto of the initial proposal on Friday, the Security Council voted on a separate proposal by Russia to approve the UN operations at the border for six months.

The plan included measures to push for broad international reconstruction efforts in Syria.

The effort failed, with only Russia and China voting in favour, while the United States, United Kingdom and France voted against it.

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The remaining 10 council members abstained.

"I hope the Security Council will meet again soon and agree on the way forward," Mark Cutts, the UN's deputy regional coordinator for Syria, told AFP on Saturday.

About 13.4 million Syrians needed aid last year, compared with 11.1 million in 2020, according to OCHA.

The poverty rate reportedly stands at 90 percent.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, at least half-a-million people have been killed and around half of the pre-war population has been displaced.

The fate of the critical border crossing is ensnared in the downward spiral of relations between Russia and the West over Ukraine. 

Middle East Eye reported in March that analysts and NGO officials had warned US lawmakers that Russia might look to shut down the corridor in response to tensions and sanctions on Russia imposed due to the invasion.

AFP contributed to this report.

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