Ten trucks carrying UN aid have entered Syria’s last rebel-held enclave from government-held territory, the first such shipment to cross battle lines since February’s deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria, UN officials say.
The convoy with humanitarian supplies crossed from a government-controlled area in the province of Aleppo, and entered Idlib, according to the UN office for humanitarian affairs or OCHA. The last aid shipment to cross the front lines in the conflict was in early January.
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UN OCHA said on Twitter on Friday the “cross-line convoy is underway, carrying UN humanitarian supplies” to northwest Syria.
The 11th cross-line convoy is underway, carrying UN humanitarian supplies from Aleppo to north-west #Syria. This is in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2672 which calls for both cross-line and cross-border #humanitarian assistance. pic.twitter.com/KRdaLQZZ1q
— OCHA Syria (@OCHA_Syria) June 23, 2023
After the February earthquake that struck Turkey and northern Syria, causing widespread destruction with more than 50,000 people killed, convoys have been prevented from entering the province of Idlib from government-held areas by the armed group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which dominates the area.
Around three million people, most of whom have been displaced by Syria’s war, live in the Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham-controlled parts of the Idlib region.
In the wake of the earthquake, aid deliveries to affected areas became a political battleground, with opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and many aid organisations pushing for the United Nations to send more aid shipments to northern Syria by way of Turkey. Meanwhile, the Syrian government and its ally, Russia, pushed for the aid to be sent via Damascus.
After the February 6 quake, an administrative arm of Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham accused al-Assad’s government of trying “to benefit from the aid intended for victims of the earthquake”.
The UN is usually only allowed to deliver aid through a single border crossing from Turkey, at Bab al-Hawa, at the insistence of Russia, which is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
After the earthquake, al-Assad agreed to the opening of two new crossing points from Turkey, at Bab al-Salam and al-Raee on a temporary basis. In practice, however, most of the cross-border aid continued to come via Bab al-Hawa. The mandate for cross-border aid deliveries at Bab al-Hawa is up for renewal next month at the Security Council.
But Sam Heller, a fellow with the New York-based Century International research centre, said that Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham’s decision to allow the aid delivery may be related to next month’s vote at the UN.
He said Russia’s UN envoy has complained about the lack of cross-line deliveries, and allowing one now may have been intended to encourage Moscow to approve the continuation of cross-border aid.
“The cross-border mandate will only be renewed with Russia’s consent,” he said.
Syria Response Coordination Group, a humanitarian organisation working in northwest Syria, said in a statement that “humanitarian convoys have been at the mercy of international political tensions” and called for international organisations to find ways to increase the amount of assistance reaching the area.