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.


US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

Updated 35 min 36 sec ago

US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

  • Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast
  • The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years

WASHINGTON: About four years before the Beirut port explosion that killed dozens of people and injured thousands, a US government contractor expressed concern to a Lebanese port official about unsafe storage there of the volatile chemicals that fueled last week’s devastating blast, American officials said Tuesday.
There is no indication the contractor communicated his concerns to anyone in the US government.
His assessment was noted briefly in a four-page State Department cable first reported by The New York Times.
The cable, labeled sensitive but unclassified, dealt largely with the Lebanese responses to the blast and the origins and disposition of the ammonium nitrate, which ignited to create an enormous explosion. But it also noted that after the Aug. 4 explosion, a person who had advised the Lebanese navy under a US Army contract from 2013 to 2016 told the State Department that he had “conducted a port facility inspection on security measures during which he reported to port officials on the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate.”
Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast, officials said.
The contractor, who was not identified by name and is now a State Department employee based in Ukraine, was in Lebanon to provide instruction to members of the Lebanese navy. While there, he made a brief, impromptu inspection of physical security at the facility in 2015 or 2016 at the request of a port official, US officials said. The contractor was not identified.
The contractor, who has a background in port and maritime security, noted weaknesses in security camera coverage and other aspects of port management but was not assessing safety issues, according to the US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a planned public statement.
While inside the warehouse where ammonium nitrate was stored, the contractor saw problems such as poor ventilation and inadequate physical security, which he noted to the port official accompanying him, the officials said. It is unclear whether the port official reported this concern to his superiors.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials. The catastrophic explosion one week ago Tuesday killed at least 171 peoples and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.
The contractor was working for the US Army’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He provided instruction to members of the Lebanese armed forces in naval vessel traffic systems and small boat operations. His class was visiting the Beirut port as part of that instruction program when the port official asked him for the inspection, which US officials said lasted about 45 minutes.
The United States has a close security relationship with Lebanon. According to the State Department, the US government has provided Lebanon with more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since 2006. The assistance is designed to support the Lebanese armed forces’ ability to secure the country’s borders, counter internal threats, and defend national territory.
Last September a US Navy ship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, visited Beirut. It was the first time in 36 years an American warship had made a port visit there, according to the US military at the time.