Renewal of cross-border aid mechanism promises little relief for war-displaced Syrians

Special Renewal of cross-border aid mechanism promises little relief for war-displaced Syrians
Syrian children queue for food at a camp near the Turkish border. (AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2023

Renewal of cross-border aid mechanism promises little relief for war-displaced Syrians

Renewal of cross-border aid mechanism promises little relief for war-displaced Syrians
  • Aid workers say six-month extension insufficient to meet scale of humanitarian need in rebel-held northwest
  • After almost 12 years of civil war, some 1.8 million people live in camps and informal settlements in the area

LEEDS, UK: A six-month extension of a UN Security Council deal guaranteeing cross-border aid to Syria is insufficient to deal with the overwhelming suffering in the country’s rebel-held northwest, humanitarian agencies warn.

After weeks of uncertainty, the council voted unanimously on Jan. 9 to renew the aid lifeline, allowing assistance to reach millions of people displaced by the conflict, which is now approaching its 12th year.

Just a day before the resolution was due to expire, the 15-member council agreed on an extension until July 10, permitting aid to be delivered across Turkiye’s border via the Bab Al-Hawa crossing.

The crossing provides more than 80 percent of the needs of people living in rebel-held areas and is the only way UN assistance can reach civilians without crossing areas controlled by the Bashar Assad regime.

Aid arrives at a camp for displaced Syrians. (AFP)

Russia, an ally of the regime, has long called for aid to pass exclusively through regions under the control of Damascus, and has vetoed cross-border extensions that exceed six months.

Although the renewal has been welcomed by aid agencies, many say the six-month extension is far too short to allow for a sustainable, meaningful and cost-effective humanitarian response.

“Shorter mandates contribute to a cycle of contingency planning, which limits our capacity to reach those who require assistance,” Nicola Banks, advocacy manager at the UK-based charity Action for Humanity, told Arab News.

“Humanitarian conditions are worsening, and agencies’ inability to plan ahead for longer than six months risks assistance that is less effective and more expensive.”

Medecins Sans Frontieres, which receives almost all of the supplies needed for its Syria response via the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, is also concerned about the limits imposed by the six-month renewal.

“Insecurity and access constraints continue to severely limit our ability to provide humanitarian assistance that matches the scale of the needs,” Sebastien Gay, MSF’s head of mission for Syria, told Arab News.

The capacity of aid agencies “to fulfill the needs of people, particularly food and health care, is being weakened by the prolonged economic crisis, hostilities and a general decrease of humanitarian funding over the years.

“Even with the cross-border mechanism in place, the need for humanitarian assistance and medical care in northwest Syria exceeds what is provided by humanitarian organizations.”

Inmates’ relatives wait outside a Damascus prison after an Assad regime crackdown. (AFP)

Gay said that the short-term renewal of the cross-border resolution has already created gaps for organizations operating in northwest Syria in the past year, limiting their ability to work on long-term projects and solutions to people’s needs.

According to a Security Council report published in December, just 18 percent of the $209.5 million needed for the winter response in Syria has been funded. This lack of certainty has forced agencies such as MSF to stretch their intervention.

“It is difficult to predict the future for the displaced people in northern Syria, especially while the conflict continues, and insecurity persists for this extremely vulnerable population,” he said.

“In the past two years, MSF has seen various health facilities and projects downscale their activities or close after losing their funds. Against this backdrop, MSF had to step up services to cover critical gaps.

“Downscaling those services endanger the lives of thousands of pregnant women and girls and their new-born children or lead to the spread of waterborne diseases, including cholera.”

After almost 12 years of civil war, about 1.8 million people now live in camps and informal settlements in Syria’s rebel-held northwest, according to the latest data from the UN Refugee Agency, with plummeting winter temperatures exacerbating already harsh conditions.


• 14.6m People in dire need of humanitarian aid.

• 75 percent Syrian households unable to meet their basic needs in 2021.

• 2.5m Syrian refugee children out of school.

• 1.6m Syrian children at risk of dropping out.

The camps were designed to act as temporary shelters, but tens of thousands of civilians fleeing violence now find themselves trapped in squalid, overcrowded sites with limited access to food, clean water, sanitation, healthcare and adequate shelter.

“Tents leak, the streets turn to mud, and freezing temperatures take a heavy toll on people’s physical and mental health,” Gay said.

Many families in the camps are living in the same canvas tents provided by aid agencies 10 years ago.

“The temperature inside and outside the tent is the same,” Hisham Dirani, CEO of the Violet Organization, a Syrian NGO, told Arab News. “This threatens the lives of children. Last winter, we witnessed children die due to the cold conditions at night.”

Along with the biting cold, the winter months bring a host of hazards, including respiratory diseases, waterborne infections, and even burns and complications caused by smoke inhalation due to improper heating methods.

Families with access to a stove and fuel are considered lucky. But even keeping warm can prove fatal, as fires occur “hundreds of times each winter,” said Dirani.

“Parents stay awake at night in anticipation of any emergency the kids may face, and keep the heater running by burning anything.”

In previous years, families burned wood, coal and pistachio shells to heat their tents. This year, amid a nationwide fuel shortage, even these basics have become scarce, leading many to burn trash and anything else they can find.

“Inhaling fumes from burning plastic, manure and coal is harmful and often results in children falling ill,” a spokesperson for the Hand in Hand for Aid and Development Foundation, a Syrian-British charity, said.

“The damp winter conditions, compounded by overcrowding and a lack of access to adequate sanitation, are likely to increase cases of respiratory infection, health issues from smoke inhalation and waterborne diseases.”

Hospitals operating near the camps “have recorded an increase in cases of bronchitis and lung damage in children,” the foundation’s spokesperson said.

“Without a proper response, this winter is likely to cause deaths from hypothermia or fires inside tents.”

Gay said that MSF medics treated 980 burn victims in northern Idlib last winter. In 2021 alone, 345 fires broke out in camps in the region, killing 12, injuring 61 and destroying 516 shelters, according to UNHCR.

Fires and noxious fumes are not the only threats facing camp communities over winter. Without sufficient drainage, sites are frequently flooded, destroying possessions, compounding cold conditions and breeding waterborne diseases.

According to the foundation spokesperson, storms and heavy rain destroyed more than 6,700 tents and damaged over 22,800 in camps across northwestern Syria.

Disease is also exacting a heavy toll. Idlib has recorded more than 14,000 suspected cholera cases and Aleppo more than 11,000 since the outbreak began in September, making the cities the second and fourth worst-hit in Syria, respectively.

Cold, hunger and inadequate shelter take a heavy toll on Syrian children in overcrowded camps. (AFP)

These regions are particularly vulnerable because they rely on polluted water from the Euphrates River to drink and irrigate crops, and because the health sector in rebel-held Syria has been battered by more than a decade of war.

It is not just the physical toll of these conditions that concern humanitarian aid agencies. Years of uncertainty, poor living conditions and untreated psychological trauma have created a mental health crisis among the displaced.

According to HIHFAD, there were 83 suicides in the camps between early 2021 and mid-2022.

Unless funding targets are met by donor nations and access via Bab Al-Hawa is guaranteed for longer than six months at a time, aid agencies warn they will lack the capacity to save lives and ease suffering in northern Syria.

“We continue to call for a 12-month mandate, and hope a 12-month mandate will be the subject of future discussions,” Banks, of  Action for Humanity, told Arab News.

This would enable aid agencies to scale up their response with the predictable, long-term support needed, she said.

UN Security Council condemns Houthi attack on Bahraini troops, demands end to terrorism

UN Security Council condemns Houthi attack on Bahraini troops, demands end to terrorism
Updated 59 min 17 sec ago

UN Security Council condemns Houthi attack on Bahraini troops, demands end to terrorism

UN Security Council condemns Houthi attack on Bahraini troops, demands end to terrorism
  • Members said the drone assault, which killed three soldiers, constituted a ‘serious threat to the peace process and regional stability’
  • The attack, which took place on Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia, represented a major escalation after more than a year of relative calm

NEW YORK CITY: The UN Security Council on Friday strongly condemned what it described as an “egregious and escalatory drone attack,” by the Houthis on Bahraini soldiers serving in the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, in which three servicemen were killed and several injured.

It constituted a “serious threat to the peace process and regional stability,” the council added.

The attack, which took place on Monday as the soldiers patrolled Saudi Arabia’s southern border with Yemen, represented a major escalation after more than a year of relative calm, at a time when momentum has been building in the peace process. The US envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, had described the current situation as “the best chance for peace in Yemen since the war broke out.”

The council called on the Houthis to end “all terrorist attacks” and expressed great concern about the group’s targeting of civilian infrastructure in cities near the border. The 15-member body also called called on all sides to respect their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law.

Members said any escalation of hostilities would only increase the suffering of the Yemeni people. They reiterated the need for “decisive steps” to be taken to reach a comprehensive ceasefire agreement, as they underscored their continuing strong support for all efforts to reach a political settlement that ends a war that has been raging for more than eight years.

They also reiterated their support for the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, and his efforts to help reach a “Yemeni-led and Yemeni-owned political settlement based on the agreed references and consistent with relevant Security Council resolutions.”

Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster

Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster
Updated 29 September 2023

Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster

Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster
  • The four additional suspects, including two members of the Derna municipal council, were arrested

BENGHAZI: Libya’s prosecutor general has ordered the arrest of four more officials, bringing to 12 the number held as part of an inquiry into this month’s flood that killed thousands.
Flooding caused by hurricane-strength Storm Daniel tore through eastern Libya on Sept. 10, leaving at least 3,893 people dead and thousands more missing.
The seaside city of Derna was the worst-hit in the flash flood, which witnesses likened to a tsunami. It burst through two dams and washed entire neighborhoods into the Mediterranean.
The four additional suspects, including two members of the Derna municipal council, were arrested for suspected “bad management of the administrative and financial missions which were incumbent upon them,” said a statement issued by the prosecutor general’s office in Tripoli, western Libya.
On Monday, the office ordered the arrest of eight officials, including Derna’s mayor who was sacked after the flood.
Libya’s prosecutor general Al-Seddik Al-Sour belongs to the internationally recognized regime in the country’s west.
A rival administration in the flood-stricken east, is backed by military leader Khalifa Haftar.
The eastern government has said it plans to host an international donors’ conference in Benghazi on Oct. 10 to focus on the reconstruction of flood-ravaged areas, but its failure to involve the Tripoli government has drawn mounting criticism from donors.
The US called on Libyans to set aside their political differences and agree on a framework to channel aid to eastern towns.


The US called on Libyans to set aside their political differences and agree a framework to channel aid to eastern towns.

“We urge Libyan authorities now to form such unified structures — rather than launching separate efforts — that represent the Libyan people without delay,” US special envoy Richard Norland said in a statement on Friday.
“A proposal to hold a reconstruction conference in Benghazi on October 10 would be much more effective if it were conducted jointly and inclusively.”
Norland echoed concerns already expressed by the UN that mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that foreign aid is spent accountably.
“Libyans need to be assured public funds are used transparently, accountably, and that assistance goes to those in need,” the US envoy said.
On Thursday during talks with the European Commission, UN envoy Abdoulaye Bathily said he had called for funds to be monitored.
“I ... emphasized the need for a joint assessment of reconstruction needs of storm-affected areas to ensure the utmost accountability in the management of reconstruction resources,” he said.
On Friday, the eastern authorities said they would begin paying compensation to people affected by the disaster, which a UN agency has said uprooted more than 43,000 people.
“Checks have been handed over to the mayors” after a relief committee received records of damage caused by the flooding, the government based in Libya’s east said in a statement.
People whose homes were destroyed would receive 100,000 dinars ($20,500) in compensation, Faraj Kaeem, the eastern administration’s deputy interior minister, said separately.
Those with partially destroyed homes would get 50,000 dinars, while those who lost furniture or household appliances would be given 20,000 dinars, he said.
The eastern administration announced on Wednesday the creation of a fund for the reconstruction of Derna.
The authorities have yet to specify how the new fund will be financed, but the eastern-based parliament has already allocated 10 billion dinars to reconstruction projects.

Women play ‘prominent’ role as hundreds protest in Syria

Women play ‘prominent’ role  as hundreds protest in Syria
Updated 29 September 2023

Women play ‘prominent’ role as hundreds protest in Syria

Women play ‘prominent’ role  as hundreds protest in Syria
  • Activist says between 2,000 and 2,500 people took part in Friday’s demonstrations in southern city

SWEIDA, Syria: Hundreds of Syrians protested on Friday in the southern city of Sweida, as women play a growing role in the anti-government demonstrations that have rocked the province for over a month, activists said.

Peaceful protests have swept Sweida province, the heartland of the country’s Druze minority, since President Bashar Assad’s regime ended fuel subsidies last month.
The move dealt a heavy blow to Syrians reeling from more than a decade of war and economic woes.
An activist and a witness said that between 2,000 and 2,500 people took part in Friday’s protests, some chanting anti-regime slogans and waving Druze flags.
“I felt a certain strength, surrounded by women and chanting against Bashar,” said Sama.
One male protester carried a large banner with a list of demands, including a transitional regime, a “new constitution” and for displaced people and detainees to return home.
Another woman protester, Sana, 50, said: “Bashar must leave. One family has dominated during my entire lifetime,” she added, also declining to provide her surname due to security concerns.
Civil war erupted in Syria after Assad’s regime crushed peaceful protests in 2011.
The war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.
Wajiha, in her 20s, said she walked half an hour in the heat to Sweida’s main square, carrying anti-regime banners for daily protests that have been going on for weeks.
Women from Sweida have been present at rallies since the conflict broke out, she said, but “the difference today is that women are not only demonstrating, they are planning and organizing the movement.”
This includes coordinating chants, making banners, and communicating with those holding protests in nearby towns, she said.
Sweida has been mostly spared from fighting during the conflict, and has faced only a few extremist attacks, which were repelled.
Protests against deteriorating economic conditions have erupted sporadically in the province in recent years.
Syrian security services have a limited presence in Sweida, and Damascus has turned a blind eye to Druze men refusing to undertake compulsory military service.
Since last month, smaller protests have also taken place in neighboring Daraa province, the cradle of Syria’s 2011 uprising.
Followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, the Druze made up less than three percent of Syria’s pre-war population. They have largely kept out of the conflict.
The Assad family has been in power for more than half a century, ever since Bashar Assad’s father Hafez seized power in a 1970 coup.

Joint security force occupies Lebanon refugee camp

Joint security force occupies Lebanon refugee camp
Updated 29 September 2023

Joint security force occupies Lebanon refugee camp

Joint security force occupies Lebanon refugee camp
  • Gunmen withdraw leaving unexploded grenades, spent ammunition on school playgrounds of Ain Al-Hilweh
  • School walls riddled with holes from bullet, rocket fire during clashes between rival factions

BEIRUT: A Palestinian joint security force on Friday took control of a school complex in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp after gunmen who had occupied the site since late July withdrew.
The deployment was part of the second phase of a cease-fire agreement between the Fatah movement and extremist groups in mid-September.
Clashes between the rival Lebanese factions in late July left more than 30 people dead.
The force entered the UNRWA school complex, which became a battleground between the rival groups, as gunmen vacated the site.
The deployment raises hopes that the truce will hold and further ease tensions inside Ain Al-Hilweh, the largest of 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
More than 75,000 refugees, including Palestinians who fled the Yarmouk camp in Syria, are housed in Ain Al-Hilweh in southern Lebanon.
The joint force consists of officers and military personnel from various Palestinian factions in the camp, including Hamas.
However, the security force and UNRWA now face a major clean-up, with the extent of damage becoming evident after the militants’ withdrawal from the school complex.
Unexploded grenades were found on the site and empty bullet casings littered the school playgrounds.
Rockets used in the clashes have left gaping holes in school walls.
The joint security force was divided into two groups. One entered the schools complex from the Al-Barakasat area, controlled by the Fatah movement, while the other entered from the Al-Tawarek-Al-Taameer area, controlled by the extremist groups, most prominently Al-Shabab Al-Muslim.
Representatives of the Palestinian Joint Action Committee in the Sidon area accompanied the force.
Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Al-Ajouri, who was commanding the force, gave the signal for the deployment, while Maj. Gen. Subhi Abu Arab, Palestinian national security commander, accompanied the operation.
UNRWA, which is monitoring the cease-fire, postponed the start of the new academic year in the Ain Al-Hilweh camp until further notice.
Schools in the rest of the region will resume teaching on Oct. 2.
More than 11,000 students attend schools in the camp, with the damaged school complex providing education to 5,900 students.
Dorothee Klaus, director of UNRWA affairs in Lebanon, said the safety of schools in the vicinity of Ain Al-Hilweh “is our top priority, and we are striving in every possible way to achieve that as soon as conditions permit.”
The agency is working to find alternatives so that children from the camp and surrounding areas can return to school as soon as possible, she said.
A preparatory meeting ahead of Friday’s deployment took place in the Sidon office of Sheikh Maher Hammoud, president of the International Union of Resistance Scholars, who is believed to be close to Hezbollah.
Representatives of Hamas and the Amal movement, an ally of Hezbollah, also attended.
Discussions took place on the possible handing over of eight suspects wanted for the assassination of Fatah leader Mohammed Al-Armoushi.
Representatives of Hamas and the Amal movement, an ally of Hezbollah, also attended.
As part of the cease-fire deal, the joint security force will prepare the way for those displaced by the fighting to return to their homes.
The final phase of the agreement involves the handover of wanted suspects.
A source dismissed rumors on social media on Thursday night that some of the wanted suspects had left the camp.
“There is an agreement that has been reached and it is fundamental, and the essential point is handing over wanted people,” the source said.
Hamas representative Ahmed Abdel Hadi described Friday’s deployment as “a step in the right direction,” adding that it stemmed from Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s initiatives to end the clashes.
Berri joined Palestine Liberation Organization leader Azzam Al-Ahmad and Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk in pushing for a cease-fire.

Italy signs judicial cooperation agreements with Algeria, Libya

Italy signs judicial cooperation agreements with Algeria, Libya
Updated 29 September 2023

Italy signs judicial cooperation agreements with Algeria, Libya

Italy signs judicial cooperation agreements with Algeria, Libya
  • Prisoners can serve sentence in country of origin following case-by-case evaluation procedure
  • Deals signed on sidelines of conference to mark 20th anniversary of UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime

ROME: Italy on Friday signed with Libya and Algeria agreements on judicial cooperation and extradition of convicted criminals.

The agreements were signed on the sidelines of an international conference in the Italian city of Palermo to mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.

They enhance judicial cooperation, and provide that select prisoners can serve their sentence in their country of origin following a case-by-case evaluation procedure.

Before entering into force, the agreements must be approved by the Italian parliament through a specific ratification bill.

“The treaties we signed will be essential to boost fruitful judicial cooperation between our countries, and will be a useful tool in order to have faster extradition processes for criminals arrested in our countries,” Italian Justice Minister Carlo Nordio told reporters after signing the agreements.

“Italy is ready to increase its network of liaison magistrates in several countries in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

“The experience we have so far has been very satisfactory, both for us and for the countries where our magistrates have been performing their duties alongside their local colleagues. That is a great way to learn best practices from both sides.”