UN chief says Syria's Assad agrees to expand UN aid access from Turkey
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to allow United Nations aid deliveries to opposition-held northwest Syria through two border crossings from Turkey for three months, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday.
Assad agreed to open the crossings of Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra'ee, Guterres said in a statement after UN aid chief Martin Griffiths met with the Syrian president in Damascus on Monday. Griffiths briefed the UN Security Council of Assad's decision during a closed-door meeting, diplomats earlier told Reuters.
The move comes a week after an earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, killing more than 37,000 people. Assad's agreement means the United Nations could now use a total of three border crossings from Turkey to reach the northwest of war-torn Syria.
The United Nations already has a Security Council mandate to use the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. It has been using that route since 2014 to deliver aid to millions of people in need in the northwest. The Security Council agreed the mandate after the Syrian government opposed the measure.
"As the toll of the Feb. 6 earthquake continues to mount, delivering food, health, nutrition, protection, shelter, winter supplies and other life-saving supplies to all the millions of people affected is of the utmost urgency," said Guterres.
"Opening these crossing points - along with facilitating humanitarian access, accelerating visa approvals and easing travel between hubs - will allow more aid to go in, faster," he added.
SECURITY COUNCIL ACTION
Aid has been reaching government-held areas hit by the earthquake. But the rebel-held northwest has received little help. A source from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Islamist group which controls much of the region, said the group would not let in shipments in across frontlines from government-held areas.
The Syrian government has long opposed aid deliveries across its border into opposition-controlled areas, describing it as a violation of its sovereignty. It says more aid should be delivered across the frontlines of the 12-year-old civil war.
Griffiths had signaled on the weekend that he would seek Security Council authorization for expanded access from Turkey if the Syrian government did not agree to it.
French UN Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said if Assad's agreement was not implemented in a transparent and sustainable manner with no obstacles then the Security Council should consider adopting a resolution to authorize the access.
Any resolution would need nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, Britain or France to pass.
Russia's Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said a resolution was now not needed "because it's a sovereign decision of Syria." He said the current Security Council mandated UN aid access through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing was a violation of Syria's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Polyanskiy said any push for a resolution would politicize the issue and not help Syrians.
Syria's UN Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh confirmed Syria would support the delivery of humanitarian aid through all possible points from inside Syria or across the border for three months. He told reporters a council resolution was not needed because it was an agreement between Syria and the United Nations.
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