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.

US blasts Houthis over ‘ticking time bomb’ tanker in Red Sea

Updated 10 August 2020

US blasts Houthis over ‘ticking time bomb’ tanker in Red Sea

  • Iran-backed militias renege on agreement to allow UN inspectors aboard stricken vessel holding 1.4 million barrels of oil

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The US blasted Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen on Sunday for reneging on a deal to allow UN teams to board a rusting oil storage vessel that threatens an environmental disaster in the Red Sea.

The FSO Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. It fell into Houthi hands in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around the port city of Hodeidah.

The Houthis briefly bowed to pressure last month and agreed to allow a team of UN engineers to visit the ship, before changing their minds and restating their previous demands for the revenue from the oil. As the vessel’s condition deteriorates there are fears that the 1.4 million barrels of oil it contains will start to seep out.

“The Houthis have failed to follow through on their agreement to allow a UN team on to the Safer,” the White House National Security Council said on Sunday.

“They are courting environmental and humanitarian disaster by obstructing and delaying. For the good of Yemen and the region, the Houthis must allow the UN aboard the Safer.”

A recent water leak into the tanker’s engine prompted warnings of a major disaster.

“The time has come for a resolute response for an outcome,” the Yemen Embassy in Washington said on Sunday. 

“There cannot be more delays or deliberations. UN inspectors must immediately access and assess the Safer oil tanker even without Houthi permission.”

The UK echoed its concerns. “There is another floating disaster off the Yemeni coast with potentially as massive an ecological footprint as the shockwave that engulfed Beirut,” former Middle East minister Alistair Burt said. “The politics preventing safe evacuation of the oil must stop immediately.”