Pompeo calls for re-opening northeast Syria border crossing, as US announces humanitarian aid for Syria

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Tuesday in which he called for re-opening a key border crossing for delivering humanitarian aid to northeast Syria.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Tuesday in which he called for re-opening a key border crossing for delivering humanitarian aid to northeast Syria.

Last week, a UN report cited the appeal of its Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who called on the Security Council to re-authorize the use of the Al-Yarubiyah border crossing to move supplies from Iraq into northeast Syria.

“The United States strongly supports” Guterres’ “recommendation to restore cross-border access between northeast Syria and Iraq to deliver aid and medicine,” Pompeo said.

Al-Yarubiyah was established as a corridor for the delivery of humanitarian aid in UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2165. Approved unanimously in July 2014, UNSCR 2165 authorized the provision of aid, three years after the Syrian civil war had begun—and a year before Russia’s intervention in support of the Syrian regime began.

Al-Yarubiyah was one of four crossings (there was another from Jordan and two from Turkey) designated in UNSCR 2165 for providing assistance to areas of Syria outside of the regime’s control.

That humanitarian aid program was regularly renewed—until January, when, at the insistence of Russia, backed by China, the Al-Yarubiyah crossing, along with the crossing from Jordan, were removed as authorized corridors for UN aid.

Additionally, although previous renewals of the humanitarian assistance program had been done annually, Russia insisted it had to be re-authorized every six months instead. That was incorporated into UNSCR 2504, which extended the program, but only until July 10.

The Security Council must renew the program by that date, after which it is set to expire. Russia now maintains that all aid should go through Damascus, raising uncertainties about its future.

In Tuesday’s statement, Pompeo condemned the Russian and Chinese maneuver over UNSCR 2504, saying they had “cynically conspired to hamper the international community’s ability to deliver humanitarian aid to vulnerable areas in Syria.”

Pompeo also complained that the resolution had “reduced humanitarian border crossings into Syria from four to two, decreased the authorization process for six months, and stopped 40 percent of the medical aid to northeast Syria, thereby increasing an already significant gap in meeting humanitarian needs at a time of global pandemic.”

Last Wednesday, the heads of some 25 non-governmental aid organizations (NGO’s), including former British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who now heads the International Rescue Committee, sent an open letter to the Security Council, making similar points.

“For more than four million Syrians who live in areas” outside the regime’s control, “the cross-border mechanism is a critical lifeline providing food, shelter, hygiene and critical medical services,” they wrote.

“In Northeast Syria, the Council’s decision” to “restrict the UN’s access through the removal of the Al Yarubiyah crossing point has had fatal consequences,” their letter continued.

“Despite a handful of cross line deliveries since January, only about 31 percent of the healthcare facilities that were previously supported through Al-Yarubiyah have been supplied, and NGOs are unable to fill the gaps.”

In particular, they underscored the danger posed by the coronavirus. “With six COVID-19 cases already confirmed in Northeast Syria, and the real number likely much higher, 11 health facilities are at risk of closure or disruptions, we are facing a critical shortage of PPE, ventilators, hospital beds, and NGO warehouses are completely out of stock of 29 medicines classed as ‘essential.’”

“The Council has the power to address these gaps by re-authorizing UN access through Al-Yarubiyah,” they stressed.

International Aid for Syria

Pompeo’s statement came following the fourth Brussels Conference on humanitarian assistance to Syria, which was held by videoconference earlier that day and hosted by the European Union and the UN.

Acting on behalf of the US, Amb. James Jeffrey, Special Representative for Syria Engagement, pledged an additional $696 million in humanitarian aid. As Jeffrey told reporters on Tuesday, that sum includes $272 million of assistance inside Syria and $423 million for countries in the region hosting refugees.

US intelligence estimates the population of Syria at around 20 million. Jeffrey explained that some 12 million people – over half the population – have left those areas of the country under regime control, moving to opposition-held areas, northeast Syria, or other countries.

Jeffrey noted that Washington’s contribution was “our largest single contribution to date,” bringing “the total United States funding for the Syrian response to more than $11.3 billion in humanitarian assistance and over $1.3 billion in non-humanitarian and stabilization assistance across the region since the conflict began.”

Pompeo’s statement stressed that the US “remains the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance—both in Syria and around the world.”

“We appreciate the European Union’s support in hosting the conference,” he continued, “and laud all donors who made contributions today, while encouraging others to do more.”

Jeffrey explained that there had been “a side event” to the humanitarian conference, in which “the US co-hosted with Italy and Belgium an event focused on accountability and civilian protection in Syria.”

He noted the regime’s “innumerable atrocities, some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity.” They include what he described as “the complicity of the Syrian government at the highest levels in chemical weapons attacks.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

(Additional reporting by Wladimir van Wilgenburg)