By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -The United Nations raised concerns on Friday with a letter from Syria that allows it to resume using a shuttered border crossing to deliver aid to northwest Syria from Turkey after U.N. Security Council approval of that route expired on Monday.
In a note to the Security Council, seen by Reuters, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) took issue with “two unacceptable conditions” in the letter sent by Syria on Thursday outlining its approval of the U.N. operation.
However, it did say that the “Syrian Government’s permission can be a basis for the United Nations to lawfully conduct cross-border humanitarian operations via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for the specified duration.”
The United Nations has not used the Bab al-Hawa crossing since the Security Council authorization expired on Monday. Council authorization was needed because the Syrian government did not previously agree to the U.N. operation, which has been delivering aid to millions in northwest Syria since 2014.
Syria gave its approval on Thursday for the U.N. to use Bab al-Hawa for another six months, but with several conditions.
“First, the Syria Government has stressed that the United Nations should not communicate with entities designated as ‘terrorist’,” OCHA wrote. “The United Nations and its implementing partners must continue to engage with relevant state and non-state parties as operationally necessary.”
It said such engagement is “indispensable for gaining safe and timely access to civilians in need and is consistent with international humanitarian law.”
OCHA also said a Syrian government demand that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) supervise and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid in northwest Syria was “neither consistent with the independence of the United Nations nor practical, as the ICRC and SARC are not present” in that area.
‘COOPERATION AND COORDINATION’
Syria had also spelled out in its letter that U.N. aid deliveries would have to be “in full cooperation and coordination with the Syrian Government.”
“The United Nations will need to engage to clarify any additional modalities for the delivery of humanitarian aid in north-west Syria,” OCHA wrote.
“Any such modalities must not infringe on the impartiality (based on needs alone), neutrality, and independence of the United Nations’ humanitarian operations,” it said.
Syrians who fled President Bashar al-Assad’s rule fear he may soon be able to choke off badly needed aid as Damascus acts to establish sway over U.N. assistance into the rebel-held northwest, the last major bastion of the Syrian opposition.
The 15-member Security Council failed to reach an agreement on Tuesday to renew the mandate for the operation after Russia vetoed a proposed nine-month extension. Russia then failed in its own bid for the council the adopt a six-month renewal.
“We had pre-positioned a lot of material in the area (northwest Syria) before the deadline. So we do have humanitarian aid in place, but obviously we want to get things going as quickly as we can,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said earlier on Friday.
A violent crackdown by Assad on peaceful pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to a civil war, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington supporting the opposition. Millions of people fled Syria with millions more internally displaced. Fighting has since abated with Assad back in control of most of Syria.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Josie Kao and Diane Craft)
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