ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A top EU official said Thursday that the potential closure of the only remaining border crossing through which humanitarian aid can enter parts of Syria held by anti-government insurgents would have “catastrophic” consequences for millions of civilians.
Janez Lenarcic, EU commissioner for Crisis Management, urged the U.N. Security Council to vote to keep the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and northern Syria operational and for other border crossings to be reopened.
He made the comments during a visit to Bab al-Hawa ahead of a crucial July 10 vote at the Security Council on whether to keep the crossing — which provides UN-coordinated assistance to more than 2.4 million Syrians — open. Syria’s government and its ally Russia, a member of the Security Council, want the aid to start coming through government-controlled parts of the war-torn country.
“This operation means life for millions of people on the other side of the border,” Lenarcic told reporters at the Turkish border province of Hatay. “Non-renewal of this lifeline across Bab al-Hawa would have tremendous, dramatic humanitarian consequences for millions of people who depend on this lifeline.”
“I trust that the members of the U.N. Security Council will appreciate the importance of preserving … this lifeline,” he said. “The consequences for human lives would be catastrophic.”
Russia has come under intense pressure from the U.N., U.S. and others who warn of dire humanitarian repercussions for Syrians in rebel strongholds if the crossing is closed. Russia says aid should be delivered across front lines within Syria, reinforcing the Syrian government’s sovereignty over the entire country.
The Security Council had approved four border crossings when aid deliveries began in 2014, three years after the start of Syria’s conflict. But in January 2020, Russia used its veto threat in the council to limit deliveries to two border crossings, and in July 2020 its veto threat closed one more crossing.
Lenarcic said the EU would welcome any humanitarian assistance coming from Damascus, but added: “Not much, if any, humanitarian assistance is coming to northwest Syria … from the government-controlled areas.”
The crisis management commissioner suggested Russia was placing political support for the Syrian government above assistance for Syrians.
“This is not about politics. It should be about saving human lives,” he said.
A newly proposed U.N. resolution would allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to northwest Syria through Bab al-Hawa for a year. An initial Security Council draft would have authorized sending aid through Bab al-Hawa and also reopen the Al-Yaroubiya crossing from Iraq to Syria’s northeast. But Russia called the resolution a “non-starter” last week and diplomats said China officially objected Wednesday.
Syria’s 10-year conflict has killed about half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million. That number includes more than 5 million who are refugees outside Syria.