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Syria reopens key aid corridor after Russian veto of UN deal

British UN security council chair fears lack of monitoring will ‘hand control’ of aid to Assad

Syria will let humanitarian aid flow through its main border crossing into rebel-held areas, reopening a conduit that had closed after a stalemate on the United Nations security council, the country’s UN ambassador has said.

Damascus had made a “sovereign decision” to let aid move overland from Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa crossing in north-west Syria for six months starting on Thursday, ambassador Bassam Sabbagh told reporters.

He said on Thursday that he sent a letter to this effect to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and the security council. A spokesperson for Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, said the UN was studying Sabbagh’s letter.

Russia was accused of “an act of utter cruelty” after it used its UN security council veto to block a nine-month renewal of the aid corridor, designed to help 4 million people living in rebel-held north-west Syria.

“The priority needs to be getting aid flowing again, fast, to the people who need it – and then getting certainty over its future,” ambassador Barbara Woodward of Britain, which is chairing the security council for the month of July, said after the announcement by Syria’s ambassador.

“But without UN monitoring, control of this critical lifeline has been handed to the man responsible for the Syrian people’s suffering,” she added.

Woodward said that under the old UN arrangement, aid going through Bab al-Hawa had “gold standard” monitoring to make sure assistance was not diverted away from people in need.

Through an arrangement that began in 2014, the UN largely delivers relief to north-west Syria via neighbouring Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

But a UN deal allowing for this mechanism to work – without the authorisation of Damascus – expired on Monday.

Russia vetoed a nine-month extension of the agreement on Tuesday, and then failed to muster enough votes to adopt a six-month extension, during a vote at UN headquarters in New York.

While the Bab al-Hawa crossing closed, two other crossings remained operational.

Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, opened them after an earthquake in February that killed tens of thousands of people in Turkey and north-west Syria. But 85% of the aid reaching rebel-held areas went through Bab al-Hawa.

Damascus regularly denounces the aid deliveries as a violation of its sovereignty, and Russia has been chipping away at the deal for years.

Moscow is a major ally of Damascus, and its intervention in Syria since 2015 helped to turn the tide in the regime’s favour.

Syria’s conflict has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced millions and battered the country’s infrastructure and industry.

Source: The Guardian