By Tuvan Gumrukcu
ANKARA (Reuters) – The United Nations and aid agencies can find workarounds to deliver cross-border aid into Syria if the U.N. Security Council cannot extend a resolution on access from Turkey this week, Turkish Red Crescent Chairman Kerem Kinik said on Friday.
The aid operation began in 2014 from four border crossings and is due to expire on Saturday. It has been reduced to just one crossing, from Turkey’s Bab al-Hawa gate, due to Russia and China’s opposition last year on the 15-member Security Council.
Failure to extend it could be devastating for millions of people in northern Syria.
Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that has veto power at the Council, wants U.N. aid to come through the capital Damascus and not via Turkey on the grounds that the operation violates Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Russia has proposed that the Council extend aid access from Turkey for six months in response to a rival bid by Western members of the Council to renew it for 12 months from crossings in Turkey and Iraq, diplomats said.
In an interview, Kinik urged the Security Council to renew the mandate with access from all possible crossings but said contingency plans were ready. There is a legal basis to continue delivering aid into Syria and some possible alternative arrangements, he said.
“If a United Nations agency … signs an agreement in Turkey on delivering cross-border aid with a partner – or even with Kizilay (Turkish Red Crescent) for example – this would mean a different mechanism type is in effect,” Kinik told Reuters.
“There are ways to overcome this and these mechanisms can be used in unison because the focus here is human suffering and humanitarian needs… Different frameworks or modalities within the U.N. itself can be found,” he said.
Turkey has sway in Syria’s northwest through support to rebels, aid and having troops on the ground. It wants the mandate renewed and has also been working with Russia and Iran towards a political solution to the crisis.
On a visit to the Turkish border this week, European Union Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said the U.N. had tried to get routes across frontlines within Syria opened before without success.
“Humanitarian aid is non-conditional and should be non-conditional,” he said. “Despite these efforts, no such cross-line routes have been opened between northwest Syria and the government-controlled part of Syria.”
Kinik criticised the Russian and Chinese efforts to only send aid across frontlines – from Damascus to rebel-held parts of Syria – and said humanitarian needs must be put first.
“Closing this crossing and abandoning people here to only the aid that may come from the south will mean leaving them to the mercy of the regime that did not protect them, that drove them here in the first place,” Kinik said.
(Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)