UN to vote on reduced extension of cross-border aid to Syria

A displaced Syrian woman, stands next to her tent at a camp for displaced Syrians from Idlib and Aleppo provinces, near the town of Maaret Misrin in Idlib province on July 11, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 11 July 2020

UN to vote on reduced extension of cross-border aid to Syria

  • Saturday’s vote will be on a new draft text which would provide for a single aid access point into Syria
  • Western member states reject Russia’s arguments that authorization for cross-border aid violates Syrian sovereignty

UN, United States: The UN Security Council is due to vote again Saturday on an extension of cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria after Russia and China vetoed a previous measure to the chagrin of Western member states.
Authorization for the transport of aid to war-torn Syria, a system in place since 2014, expired Friday following the two countries’ veto earlier in the day and the subsequent rejection of a counterproposal by Moscow.
Saturday’s vote will be on a new draft text submitted overnight by Germany and Belgium, which would provide for a single aid access point into Syria.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called in a tweet Saturday “on all delegations to no longer obstruct a compromise.”
European countries and the US had wanted to maintain two crossing points on the Turkish border — at Bab Al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab Al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.
The latest draft measure calls only for the Bab Al-Hawa crossing to be maintained “for a period of twelve months,” according to a text obtained by AFP. The Council would also ask the UN secretary-general for a report “at least every 60 days.”
UN authorization allows the international body to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without needing permission from Damascus.
But Russia and China argue that the authorization violates Syria’s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channeled through Syrian authorities.
Russia, Syria’s closest ally, has for weeks argued that Bab Al-Salam should be removed as an access point, particularly as it leads to the Aleppo region.
Bab Al-Hawa, on the other hand, allows for aid to be funneled to nearly four million people in the insurgent Idlib region, which the Syrian regime does not control.
Western member states reject Russia’s arguments that authorization for cross-border aid violates Syrian sovereignty.
Those countries maintain that there is no credible alternative to the cross-border system and argue that Syrian bureaucracy and politics are preventing an effective flow of aid in areas not controlled by the Syrian regime.
The US has gone so far as to describe having two entry points as “a red line.”
The 15 members of the Security Council have until midday Saturday to submit amendments to the latest text before the vote.
Russia has asked for two things — a mention of the impact of unilateral sanctions on Syria (an implicit jab at the United States and Europe), and a statement acknowledging improvements in aid delivery carried out under the Syrian regime.
However, those amendments have little chance of being adopted.
China, for its part, has called for an amendment highlighting the work of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, “in particular his appeal for an immediate global cease-fire.”
In January, Moscow succeeded in having the crossing points reduced from four to two and in limiting the authorization to six months instead of a year.
This week Russia and China exercised their veto rights as permanent members twice — on Tuesday and Friday — even as NGOs and Western countries accused them of politicizing a humanitarian issue.
To be adopted, Saturday’s draft text must get at least nine of the 15 votes, with none of the five permanent members voting against the measure.
Friday’s vetoes by Moscow and Beijing marked the 16th for Russia and 10th for China on texts linked to Syria since the war began in 2011.
In a report in June, Guterres called for a one-year extension of the aid to include the two current access points.


Beirut reels from huge blast as death toll climbs to at least 135

Updated 51 min 13 sec ago

Beirut reels from huge blast as death toll climbs to at least 135

  • Toll expected to rise as worker search rubble for missing
  • Beirut mayor says Lebanon in grip of a “catastrophe“

BEIRUT: Lebanese rescue teams pulled out bodies and hunted for missing in the wreckage of buildings on Wednesday as investigations blamed negligence for a massive warehouse explosion that sent a devastating blast wave across Beirut, killing at least 135.
More than 5,000 people were injured in Tuesday’s explosion at Beirut port, Health Minister Hamad Hassan said, and up to 250,000 were left without homes fit to live in after shockwaves smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows miles inland.
Hassan said tens of people remained missing. Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared three days of mourning from Thursday.
The death toll was expected to rise from the blast, which officials blamed on a huge stockpile of highly explosive material stored for years in unsafe conditions at the port.
The explosion was the most powerful ever to rip through Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war that ended three decades ago and reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections. The blast rattled buildings on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, about 100 miles (160 km) away.
President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures, after it was seized.
In an address to the nation during an emergency cabinet session, Aoun said: “No words can describe the horror that has hit Beirut last night, turning it into a disaster-stricken city.”
He said the government was “determined to investigate and expose what happened as soon as possible, to hold the responsible and the negligent accountable.”
An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed the incident on “inaction and negligence,” saying “nothing was done” by committees and judges involved in the matter to order the removal of hazardous material.
The cabinet ordered port officials involved in storing or guarding the material since 2014 to be put under house arrest, ministerial sources told Reuters. The cabinet also announced a two-week state of emergency in Beirut.

’COLLAPSE OF LEBANON’
Ordinary Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in Lebanon’s financial crisis, blamed politicians who have overseen decades of state corruption and bad governance.
“This explosion seals the collapse of Lebanon. I really blame the ruling class,” said Hassan Zaiter, 32, a manager at the heavily damaged Le Gray Hotel in downtown Beirut.
The health minister said the death toll had climbed to 135, as the search for victims continued after shockwaves from the blast hurled some of the victims into the sea.
Relatives gathered at the cordon to Beirut port seeking information on those still missing. Many of those killed were port and custom employees, people working in the area or those driving nearby during the Tuesday evening rush hour.
The Red Cross was coordinating with the Health Ministry to set up morgues as hospitals were overwhelmed. Health officials said hospitals were struggling with the big influx of casualties and were running out of beds and equipment to attend to the injured and those in critical condition. Beirut’s Clemenceau Medical Center was “like a slaughterhouse, blood covering the corridors and the lifts,” said Sara, one of its nurses.
Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told broadcaster LBC the blast had caused damage worth up to $5 billion, and possibly more, and left up to 250,000 people without homes.
“This is the killer blow for Beirut, we are a disaster zone,” said Bilal, a man in his 60s, in the downtown area.
Offers of international support poured in. Gulf Arab states, who in the past were major financial supporters of Lebanon but recently stepped back because of what they say is Iranian meddling, sent planes with medical equipment and other supplies. Iran offered food and a field hospital, ISNA news agency said.
The United States, Britain, France and other Western nations, which have been demanding political and economic change in Lebanon, also offered help. Germany, the Netherlands and Cyprus offered specialized search and rescue teams.
Two French planes were expected to arrive on Thursday with 55 rescuers, medical equipment and a mobile clinic. French President Emmanuel Macron will also visit Lebanon on Thursday. Other Arab and European countries are sending doctors, mobile hospitals and equipment.

’CATASTROPHE’
For many it was a dreadful reminder of the 1975-1990 civil war that tore the nation apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut, much of which had since been rebuilt.
“This is a catastrophe for Beirut and Lebanon.” Beirut’s mayor, Jamal Itani, told Reuters while inspecting damage.
Officials did not say what caused the initial blaze at the port that set off the blast. A security source and media said it was started by welding work being carried out on a warehouse.
Taxi driver Abou Khaled said ministers “are the first that should be held accountable for this disaster. They committed a crime against the people of this nation with their negligence.”
The port district was left a tangled wreck, disabling the nation’s main route for imports needed to feed a nation of more than 6 million people.
Lebanon has already been struggling to house and feed refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring Syria and has no trade or other ties with its only other neighbor Israel.
“On a scale, this explosion is scaled down from a nuclear bomb rather than up from a conventional bomb,” said Roland Alford, managing director of British explosive ordnance disposal firm Alford Technologies. “This is huge.”
The blast prompted the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Wednesday to postpone its verdict in the trial over the 2005 bombing that killed ex-Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri to Aug. 18. The tribunal’s decision had been expected this Friday.
The UN-backed court put on trial four suspects from the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah. Hariri and 21 others were killed by a big truck bomb on another part of the Beirut waterfront, about 2 km (about one mile) from the port.