Syria Kurds warn of regime pressure, aid shortages after UN vote

A US military convoy drives on the outskirts of the Kurdish-controlled northern Syrian city of Qamishli on January 14, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2020

Syria Kurds warn of regime pressure, aid shortages after UN vote

  • The UN had used the Yaroubiya crossing to deliver aid that the Syrian government had not permitted via Damascus

BEIRUT: Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria warned Tuesday that a UN vote to scrap a key entry point for cross-border aid will lead to medical shortages and expose them to regime control.
“There will be no (UN) aid entering the region except from government-held areas, which will give the regime a greater ability to control aid distribution,” said Abdel Kader Mouwahad, director of humanitarian affairs for Kurdish authorities.
The Yaroubiya crossing along the Iraqi border, was a key entry point for UN-funded medical aid reaching a Kurdish-held region where an estimated 1,650,000 people are reliant on humanitarian assistance, according to aid groups.
The UN had used it to deliver medical supplies that the Syrian government had not permitted via Damascus.
But it was scrapped last Friday after the UN Security Council voted to scale back cross-border aid deliveries to Syria, under pressure from regime ally Russia.
This leaves Syria’s Kurds with the unofficial Samalka crossing with Iraqi Kurdistan, which is not used for UN aid.
Yaroubiya’s closure will cripple at least half of the health care response in an area ravaged by battles against the Daesh group as well as a Turkish offensive in October that displaced 200,000 people.
It will disrupt “60 to 70 percent of medical assistance to Al-Hol,” an overcrowded desert camp brimming with tens of thousands of civilians and Daesh families, said Mouwahad.
It will also threaten the delivery of UN-funded medicine and medical equipment to a key hospital in the city of Hassakeh as well as critical medical points established around two towns near the Turkish border hard hit by Turkey’s latest incursion, he told AFP.
He said that UN support for the Kurdish Red Crescent may also be slashed.
Aggravating the situation, UN-funded aid to northeast Syria must now come either from Turkey or from government-held areas with permission from Damascus, which aims to reintegrate Kurdish-held areas into the state’s fold.
But Mouwahad said it was “impossible” for aid to enter from Turkey, which views Kurdish forces in Syria as a “terrorist” offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on its own soil.
Damascus, for its part, will use aid supply lines as a “pressure card” to encourage Kurds to relinquish the semi-autonomy they have achieved during Syria’s nine-year-old conflict.
“The aim is to politically intimidate the Kurdish administration,” he said.
Syrian troops have already deployed in much of the northeast in recent months as part of deal with the Kurds who are seeking protection from Turkey.
Damascus has also called on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who have fought IS to integrate into its military, a proposal the Kurds rejected.
Redur Khalil, a senior SDF official, said the latest UN move was a “dangerous development.”
“Aid will be barred from reaching the region” under the restrictions on entry points, he said on Twitter, urging the United Nations to intervene.
International Crisis Group analyst Sam Heller said the curb on aid entry points “further concentrates power in Damascus, and in Syrian government hands.”
“It’s another instance of Damascus benefiting from its control of the Syrian state’s institutions and international legitimacy... to enforce dependence,” he said.

Lebanon president to chair crisis talks over weekend violence

Updated 20 January 2020

Lebanon president to chair crisis talks over weekend violence

  • The meeting will touch on “security developments” in the country
  • Lebanon has been without a government since outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s under-fire president is set to meet Monday with top security officials to discuss rare violence over the weekend that left hundreds wounded in the protest-hit country.

Michel Aoun will be joined by the care-taker ministers of the interior and defense as well as the chiefs of the military and security agencies in the early afternoon, his office said in a statement.

The meeting will touch on “security developments” in a country rocked since October 17 by unprecedented protests against a political class deemed incompetent, corrupt and responsible for an ever-deepening economic crisis.

It will also address “measures that need to be taken to preserve peace and stability,” the state-run National News agency (NNA) reported.

Demonstrators at the weekend lobbed stones, firecrackers and street signs at riot police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets to clear a flashpoint road near parliament.

Over the most violent weekend in three months of street protests, some 530 were wounded on both sides, according to a toll compiled by AFP from figures provided by the Red Cross and Civil Defense.

Lawyers and rights groups have condemned the “excessive” and “brutal” use of force by security forces.

Human Rights Watch accused riot police of “launching tear gas canisters at protesters’ heads, firing rubber bullets in their eyes and attacking people at hospitals and a mosque.”

Internal Security Forces, for their part, have urged demonstrators to abstain from assaulting riot police and damaging public or private property.
Protesters had called for a week of “anger” over the political leadership’s failure to form a new government even as the debt-ridden country sinks deeper into a financial crisis.

Lebanon has been without a government since outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29 in the face of popular pressure.

Political factions agreed on December 19 to appoint former education minister Hassan Diab as the new premier but have since squabbled over ministerial posts and portfolios.

Protesters have demanded a new government be comprised solely of independent experts, and exclude all established political parties.

The United Nations’ envoy to Lebanon pinned the blame for the violence on politicians.

“Anger of the people is understandable, but it is different from vandalism of political manipulators, that must be stopped,” Jan Kubis wrote on Twitter on Saturday.