IDLIB, Syria (AP) – Hundreds of aid workers on Friday formed a human chain stretching from a border post with Turkey to a rebel-held town in northwest Syria to protest attempts to Russia to close the only remaining border post that allows aid in areas held by Syrian insurgents.
More than 2,000 aid workers took part in the protest ahead of the July 10 deadline on whether the Bab al-Hawa crossing will remain open for aid. The Syrian government and its ally Russia want aid to start coming from the government-controlled parts of the war-torn country.
Russia has come under intense pressure from the UN, the United States and others who warn of dire humanitarian consequences for Syrians in the rebel stronghold if the crossing is closed. Russia said aid should be channeled through the front lines in Syria, thus strengthening the Syrian government’s sovereignty over the whole country.
The UN Security Council this week began negotiations on a draft resolution that would continue to allow the delivery of aid through Bab al-Hawa to Idlib and also reopen the Al-Yaroubiya crossing between Iraq and northeastern Syria. This border post was closed in January last year at the insistence of Russia, Syria’s closest ally.
The Security Council had approved four border crossings when deliveries began in 2014, three years after the start of the conflict in Syria. But in January 2020, Russia used its veto threat in the Council to limit aid deliveries to two border crossings, and in July 2020, its veto threat closed another passage.
“Humanitarian aid is a right,” read a large English banner carried by aid workers on the road from Bab al-Hawa to Idlib. Another banner read: “Those who survived the Russian bombing will be killed by the Russian veto. “
Wassim Baker, health coordinator for Violet, one of the groups participating in the Human Chain, said his message to the international community was to “keep the lifeline open.”
He warned that closing the border post would have “catastrophic results on the humanitarian sector” which serves more than 3 million people, many of whom are internally displaced.
The 10-year conflict in Syria killed around half a million people and displaced half of the country’s 23 million people before the war. This number includes more than 5 million refugees outside of Syria.