UN and West spar with Russia over cross-border aid to Syria

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United Nations:  The UN humanitarian chief has warned that a halt to cross-border aid deliveries to the last rebel stronghold in Syria would cause “suffering and death,” but Syria’s ally Russia accused the UN and Western nations of trying to “sabotage” assistance from within Syria.

Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council on Monday that an estimated 2.8 million people in the rebel-held northwest — 70 per cent of the region’s population — require humanitarian assistance, with growing economic hardship aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said two-thirds of the northwest’s population is displaced, the vast majority sheltering in camps and informal settlements where malnutrition rates have been rising in past months.

Almost three in every 10 children in the region under the age of five suffer from stunting, “a condition likely to impact irreversibly their physical and cognitive development,” he said.

Lowcock said delivery of aid through two crossing points from Turkey enabled 1,781 trucks primarily carrying food for 1.3 million people to get to the mainly rebel-held northwest in May, which is still “far from sufficient”.

He said more children and infants are arriving at nutrition centres “showing signs of chronic and acute malnutrition”, and some mothers say they are cooking weeds to supplement food rations.

“The northwest continues to suffer a major humanitarian crisis,” Lowcock said. “The cross-border operation needs to be scaled up further.”

He said the Security Council’s failure to extend cross-border deliveries would halt the UN operation from Turkey and “it would cause suffering and death”.

Russia holds the key to future cross-border operations. It contends cross-border aid was meant to be a temporary response to the nine-year Syrian conflict and the situation on the ground has changed.

In January, Russia scored a victory for Syria, using its veto threat to force the Security Council to adopt a resolution reducing the number of crossing points for aid deliveries from four to just two, from Turkey to the northwest.

It also cut in half the year-long mandate that had been in place since cross-border deliveries began in 2014 to six months, as Russia insisted.

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