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.


Heavy rains trigger collapse at Yemen’s newly restored museum

Updated 15 min 14 sec ago

Heavy rains trigger collapse at Yemen’s newly restored museum

  • The building became a museum in 1967
  • The renovation work on the National Museum had left parts of the complex beautifully restored

TAIZ: Heavy rains have triggered the collapse of parts of the newly restored National Museum in Yemen’s third city Taiz, in the latest loss to the country’s cultural heritage after years of war.
Established as an Ottoman palace, then a residence for one of Yemen’s last kings, the building became a museum in 1967 but has since been bombed and its collections pilfered.
It was partially restored in 2019, but a recent deluge caused the entrance hall to give way last week, with the facade and the rooms inside reduced to rubble.
“One of the main entrances collapsed... as a result of the heavy rainfall which poses a threat to all cultural and historical sites,” the museum’s director Ramzi Al-Damini told AFP, urging the international community to intervene to protect Yemen’s heritage.
Taiz, a city ringed by mountains, is under government control but surrounded by Houthi militants whose bombardments have hit the museum several times.
Yemen’s rich cultural heritage has been among the casualties of the conflict that has left thousands dead, millions displaced, and cities and villages stalked by famine and disease in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“I feel despair and sadness to see my country’s heritage destroyed, our civilization destroyed, our history destroyed,” said Akram Al-Hmeiri, a resident of Taiz.
“Everything in Yemen has been destroyed,” he told AFP.
The renovation work on the National Museum had left parts of the complex beautifully restored, with the facade, intricate ochre brickwork, and arched windows back to their original grandeur.
Other parts however remained pocked with damage, crumbling away to reveal collapsed floors and shattered walls.
The disrepair left it vulnerable to the heavy rains which hit Yemen in recent months, triggering flash floods that killed scores of people and damaged other UNESCO-listed World Heritage sites in the capital and in the cities of Zabid and Shibam.
Taiz’s museum had planned to re-open its doors in 2023, by which time officials hope the conflict will have abated.
“If the damage to the museum is not fixed and renovations undertaken... it will have a negative effect on the city,” said Ahmed Jasar, the region’s director of antiquities.
“The museum is symbol for Taiz,” he told AFP.