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UN Chief Says Cross-Border Aid To Syria Remains 'Essential'

Trucks carry humanitarian aid cross from Turkey into Syria at the Bab al-Hawa border point.
Trucks carry humanitarian aid cross from Turkey into Syria at the Bab al-Hawa border point.

UN cross-border humanitarian aid from Turkey to a rebel-held enclave in northwestern Syria remains vital for millions of people, the United Nations secretary-general has said in an internal report.

The United States and Russia reached a last-minute deal in July to allow humanitarian aid to continue flowing at Bab al-Hawa, the only border crossing into Idlib, a jihadist and rebel-controlled enclave where more than 2 million people need assistance.

An agreement at the UN Security Council, where Russia has a veto, allowed the aid to keep flowing through Bab al-Hawa until January 10, 2022. But an automatic six-month extension was contingent on Antonio Guterres issuing a report on the operation's "transparency" and progress on delivering aid across Syria's internal front lines.

"Cross-border assistance remains lifesaving for millions of people in need in northwest Syria," Guterres said in a confidential document obtained by AFP and AP on December 15.

"Despite challenges, humanitarian aid is delivered, and services are provided, in a principled and transparent manner throughout the country," Guterres said, adding that over 4 million people were in need of crucial assistance across the country.

Russia, a key ally of Syria, used its veto threat in the council last year to stop aid shipments through three other border points. Moscow argues humanitarian supplies should be sent across conflict lines within Syria to strengthen the government's sovereignty over the entire country.

The European Union, United States, Turkey, and other countries say cross-border deliveries at Bab al-Hawa remain vital, warning that stopping them could impact millions of Syrians living in camps.

Guterres said that "clear progress has been made" on delivering aid across internal conflict lines, but that those shipments weren't enough to replace shipments through Bab al-Hawa.

"At this point such cross-line convoys, even if deployed regularly, could not replicate the size and scope of the cross-border operation," he said.

"The cross-border operation remains an essential part of the humanitarian response and will continue to do so as long as needs cannot be addressed at the same scope and scale through any other modality," he wrote.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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