China desires cross-border assistance and the lifting of sanctions against Syria.
China said Tuesday that it wants the United Nations Security Council to not only extend humanitarian aid delivery from neighboring countries to Syria, but also to address the impact of Western sanctions and the necessity to expand supply across battle lines.
His remarks come as the 15 council members face a deadline of four days before the mandate for cross-border assistance ends.
After confidential briefings to the council and a discussion among members on a draft resolution to maintain cross-border supplies, Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters that he expects “with additional diplomatic efforts” – not just on cross-border aid – “we can find a solution.”
“China, without a doubt, wants to see a solution regarding unilateral sanctions, cross-border lines, and border transparency. We are not just talking about cross-border issues; we are talking about the entire state of affairs in Syria,” Zhang explained.
China and Russia blocked a United Nations resolution in early July 2020 that would have preserved two border crossing points from Turkey for humanitarian aid to Syria’s largely rebel-held northwest. Days later, in response to pressure from both countries, the council permitted relief delivery through only one of those crossings, Bab an-Hawa. Saturday marks the end of the one-year mandate for using that crossing.
After Tuesday’s council meeting, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that Bab al-Hawa “is a lifeline for millions of people” in northern Syria’s Idlib province, and that if the crossing is closed, “the repercussions are obvious: people will starve to death.”
In a statement echoed by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, numerous Western diplomats, and humanitarian organizations working in Syria, Thomas-Greenfield stated that there is no substitute for delivering UN aid across international borders rather than across conflict lines within Syria.
“Cross-border aid alone cannot meet the Syrians’ needs – needs that have only increased in the last year as a result of COVID,” she said.
“We have offered to support expanding cross-line aid in good faith and will do so in the future,” she stated. “In fact, we have advanced a serious and credible proposal to expand humanitarian assistance throughout Syria – including cross-line and cross-border assistance, as well as urgent COVID relief – in order to meet the Syrian people’s urgent needs.”
In response to a query about China’s ambassador’s comments and whether the US is willing to make any sanctions concessions, Thomas-Greenfield stated: “This is not a discussion about sanctions.” It is a matter of humanitarian concerns.”
The ambassador, who paid a visit to Bab al-Hawa last month, stated that while US sanctions target solely Syrian President Bashar Assad’s administration, US humanitarian assistance is available to all Syrians, including those living in government-controlled and rebel-held areas.
Russia addressed the subject of US and European Union sanctions against its close ally Syria and their bad impact on Syria’s humanitarian crisis during the debate over the cross-border resolution a year ago. The United States and the European Union have strenuously denied the charges, maintaining that their sanctions include humanitarian exemptions.
Two weeks ago, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council that aid crossing combat lines within Syria is the “only legitimate option” for a humanitarian operation to deliver assistance. He accused Western nations of squandering the previous year by failing to “find a seamless and constructive solution and an optimal balance of Idlib’s procurement via both Bab al-Hawa and domestic channels.”
Nebenzia further stated that US and EU sanctions impose a “heavy burden” on every Syrian, adding, “You blow the whistle on humanitarian access while pretending the problem of Syria’s suffocation by sanctions does not exist.”
Dmitry Polyansky, Russia’s Deputy United Nations Ambassador, told reporters following Tuesday’s meeting that Russia holds the “same position as previously expressed.”
When humanitarian delivery began in 2014, three years after the Syrian crisis began, the Security Council sanctioned four border crossings. However, Russia used its veto threat in the council in January 2020 to restrict relief deliveries to two border crossings in the northwest, and then to one in July.
The council is currently debating a draft resolution offered by Ireland and Norway that would preserve the Bab al-Hawa crossing and reopen the Al-Yaroubiya border crossing between Iraq and Syria’s predominantly Kurdish-controlled northeast.
Nebenzia described the initiative to reopen Al-Yaroubiya as a “non-starter” last week.
The current president of the council, French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere, cautioned that if humanitarian help can only be delivered across battle lines – and not from adjacent countries – Western governments, which fund 92 percent of humanitarian assistance, will cease funding.
According to a briefing released Tuesday by Robert S. Ford, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, “Moscow’s primary consideration ahead of the vote is its relationship with Ankara.” He asserted that the Turkish government, which backs the Syrian opposition, wishes to avert a massive refugee influx from northwest Syria if the cross-border operation is terminated.
Russia has been collaborating with Turkey in the so-called Astana process aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict, Ford claimed, while capitalizing on “Turkish dissatisfaction with American policy to erode NATO unity.”
“The Russians are weighing the cost of an aid veto that would incentivize the Turks to move further and faster toward rapprochement with the US,” he said.
Ford suggested that Russia would agree to extend cross-border assistance delivery “in exchange for a reduction in Western sanctions,” as well as to crack down on armed opposition groups in northwest Syria and to deploy supply convoys from Damascus to Idlib.