Russia's blockade of aid to rebel areas is causing fear in Syria

IDLIB (Syria) -- Adila Afesh's family has seen their food assistance in Syria shrink by almost two-thirds over the past two years.

Russia's blockade of aid to rebel areas is causing fear in Syria

IDLIB (Syria) -- Adila Afesh's family has seen their food assistance in Syria shrink by almost two-thirds over the past two years.

She fears Russia, perhaps in retaliation against Western sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, will block the renewal U.N. Security Council Resolution that allows aid from Turkey to Syrians, who, like her family, reside in rebel-run Idlib.

Afesh, her seven children and 4 million other Idlib residents would have to live on less.

"If aid is cut off, it will mean that we are condemned to death," she said. She spoke of her "death by hunger" on a recent morning in the tent she shares with her family. Her cat was still asleep in her lap while her children played nearby.

According to the jobless woman, their family can survive on just two meals per day, mainly made of bulgur or rice. She says that soon, "we may have to fight in the order to get a bite to eat."

Russia, a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has long wanted to shut down the Turkey route, seeking to have aid delivered solely through government-controlled areas. Residents and activists in opposition warn that this is something Damascus will use as a pressure tactic to attack Idlib, Syria's main rebel stronghold.

Four border crossings allowed aid to flow into Syria in 2014. Russia, a permanent member of U.N. Security Council, forced the council closing three of the four crossings. One was kept in the north, at the Bab al-Hawa crossing to Turkey, so that aid could flow into the rebel stronghold, which has been destroyed by 11 years' of war.

Early July 2020, Russia and China vetoed U.N. Resolution that would have kept two border crossings from Turkey for humanitarian aid to Idlib. The council approved the delivery of humanitarian aid through Bab al-Hawa, just days later. This weekend, the mandate of one year was extended. It will be renewed in New York on Thursday.

The aid agencies warn that Russia could veto the resolution and cause food shortages in Idlib, and the surrounding areas, by September. This would put the lives of 4.1 million people at risk, many of whom are refugees from the conflict and live in tent settlements.

According to a draft resolution obtained from The Associated Press, Russia submitted amendments Wednesday in New York that would have allowed for a six-month extension rather than the one-year extension requested by other members of the Security Council.

Afesh (37), was forced from Aleppo's northern city in 2016. She said that her primary concern before moving to Idlib Province was where she could hide her four children and three daughters from government airstrikes. The family that lost its breadwinner seven years ago now lives in relative peace near the Turkish border. Soon, they may not be able to eat.

Syria's economy is experiencing its worst time since 2011 when the crisis started. This is due to a variety of problems, including widespread corruption, crippling Western sanctions, and rising food prices as a result of the war in Ukraine.

"The situation in Syria is always been highly politicized," stated Mark Cutts (the U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator).

Cutts stated to The Associated Press, "people will surely die" if Security Council resolutions are not extended. Cutts said that there would be a huge crisis as hospitals don't have the medical supplies they need and people won't get the vaccines they need.

Cutts stated that delivering humanitarian aid through Turkey is easy and direct. If aid must pass through government areas it will need to go through active front lines. He said, "This is still war zone."

He said that over the past 12 months, five convoys have crossed from government-controlled areas while 800 trucks cross from Turkey every month. He stated that they reached 2.4 million people in northwest Syria last year and that more funding is needed to do so.

Abdul-Razzaq Awad is a manager at Syria Relief. He said that aid agencies are now offering half of the aid they once gave due to the conflict in Ukraine. He said that if Bab al-Hawa is closed and aid has to come from government-controlled areas, he expects it to drop to about 20% of what used to be delivered before the Ukraine war.

29 aid agencies gathered in June to share a common message: a humanitarian catastrophe will occur if the U.N Security Council fails to permit lifesaving aid and services across the border.

Access to food, vaccines against COVID-19, essential medical supplies, and essential services, including access to clean water, education, and health care for millions of Syrians, are all at stake.

"Removing the channel of assistance will have catastrophic humanitarian effects on civilians, and that there isn't an alternative," stated the agencies, which include International Rescue Committee (CARE International), World Vision International (World Vision International), Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, Mercy Corps, and CARE International.

David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, stated that "now is the right time for the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) to correct its course and show that it can put people’s lives above politics."

Russia has claimed that the government should handle aid delivery, and that militant groups are handling them in the current arrangement.

Dmitry Polyansky, Russia's U.N. deputy ambassador, told the Security Council in May that he was not happy with maintaining the status quo at all costs. Polyansky pointed out that the most powerful group in Idlib is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham which is linked to al-Qaida.

Cutts, a U.N. official, stated that the world should do something to help residents of northwest Syria.

He said, "This is in fact one of the most vulnerable civil populations anywhere in the globe."

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Mroue reported from Beirut. Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press writer, contributed to this report from United Nations.

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