Violence Spikes in Northern Syria After Russia, China Veto Yet Another UNSC Resolution

By James Carstensen | December 25, 2019 | 5:50pm EST
The Russian ambassador vetoes a Security Council resolution on extending humanitarian aid access in Syria. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe/Cropped)
The Russian ambassador vetoes a Security Council resolution on extending humanitarian aid access in Syria. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe/Cropped)

Berlin ( – A spike in violence in Syria days after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on extending humanitarian aid is stoking fears of a major humanitarian catastrophe in the region.

Assad regime forces stepped up attacks against rebel-held areas in the northwestern province of Idlib last week with air support from its main ally, Russia.

The uptick in violence has already displaced at least 120,000 people since last week, according to humanitarian organizations, and sent a new wave of refugees toward Turkey – which has warned it cannot hold any more.

“In the last week, the number of people fleeing from the southern regions [of Idlib] to the north because of the increasing attacks has reached 120,000,” said Selim Tosun, media advisor for the Humanitarian Relief Foundation.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the regime assault has caused tens of thousands of civilians to flee to the north, toward camps along the border with Turkey.

On Friday, Russia and China used their veto power as permanent council members to kill a resolution introduced by Germany, Belgium and Kuwait, which would have extended authorization for the U.N. and its partners to deliver cross-border aid into Syria.

It was the 14th time Russia has vetoed a Syria-related resolution since the civil war began in 2011. Over that same period, China has vetoed eight resolutions dealing with the crisis.

The permanent council members, Russia, China, Britain, France and the U.S., all enjoy veto power. The ten rotating members do not.

The U.S.-based International Rescue Committee criticized the timing of the Russian-Chinese veto, calling it “a new low” and warning of a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

“The IRC is deeply concerned about the fate of these millions trapped in ongoing conflict and caught in limbo in what remains a humanitarian catastrophe,” the NGO said in a statement. “Now was not the time to scale back on humanitarian access.”

“This resolution represents the only U.N. Security Council action designed explicitly to relieve their suffering. Some members of the council have lost sight of the ongoing cost in human lives of these eight years of war.”

Russia and China claimed the circumstances surrounding the original adoption of the resolution – which the new one sought to extend – were no longer relevant. Russia offered an alternative text that would have reduced the number of cross-border access points to two.

That alternative was rejected by a 6-5 vote, with four abstentions.

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia argued that many parts of Syria can get humanitarian assistance from within Syria, while Chinese ambassador Zhang Jun said it was the primary responsibility of Syria’s government to manage the humanitarian situation in the country.

“We have always advocated that any operation should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country concerned,” Zhang said. “We should prioritize providing humanitarian assistance from inside of Syria.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the two vetoing governments.

“Russia and China, who have chosen to make a political statement by opposing this resolution, you have blood on your hands,” he said in a statement, rejecting Russian and Chinese claims that the Assad regime can handle the humanitarian aid.

“There is no substitute for U.N. cross-border deliveries, and there are no viable alternatives to feeding millions of Syrians until the Syrian regime ceases its war on the Syrian people,” Pompeo said.

Germany, one of the co-sponsors, called the veto “regrettable,” adding that the current situation in Idlib illustrates the urgent need for access to aid access. It pledged to search for a solution beyond January 10 – the expiry date for the current humanitarian aid resolution.

“We appeal to all members of the Security Council to agree to a compromise based solely on humanitarian needs and people’s plight,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

France joined the criticism, saying that “the military offensive by the Damascus regime and its allies is worsening the humanitarian crisis.”

“It is more imperative than ever for the United Nations to maintain the most direct and effective access to populations in need through preserving cross-border assistance,” said the foreign ministry in Paris.


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