The United States has called the United Nations Security Council to immediately authorise the delivery of humanitarian aid to areas of rebel-held northwest Syria severely destroyed in twin earthquakes on 6 February.
The United Nations on Monday updated the death-toll in Syria’s northwest as 4,300, adding that some 7,600 were also injured.
Five million people are at the risk of being homeless in northern Syria, as the destruction of 12-years of war on infrastructure and building stock exacerbated the impact of the seismic disaster.
The tremors hit areas under the control of the Damascus government, in addition to Turkey-backed rebel held areas in the northwest, and Kurdish-controlled territories in the north. The Damascus government aims to control the distribution of humanitarian aid to the region, while rivalry between Turkey-backed rebel areas and Kurdish administrations adds to serious disruptions.
Only one border gate is open to international humanitarian aid convoys attempting to reach Syria’s North. The border gate is in Turkey’s Hatay province, which was also severely hit by the earthquakes, and itself has a humanitarian aid crisis. Cracked and collapsed main roads create another obstacle.
The Syrian government last week promised to open up all corridors to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to the north, however, reports from the ground claim that Damascus prioritises deliveries to loyalist areas. Meanwhile, the Kurdish-led administration in Rojova announced that rebel-forces in the northwest took orders from Ankara to block humanitarian aid sent from the northeast, and that earthquake victims are scared to accept supplies sent by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
On Monday, a 50-truck AANES aid convoy from Raqqa set off to deliver aid to the northwest, reported North Press.
According to war watchdog Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the Damascus government has also been refusing to allow Kurdish Red Crescent convoys entry to affected areas in Aleppo.
The Red Crescent convoy is comprised of five trucks and two ambulance vehicles loaded with medical equipment, and has waited for 48 hours to be granted entry to Syria, the observatory said. The Syrian Red Crescent wants to distribute the aid, but the Kurdish Red Crescent fears this option would lead to stolen packages or ineffective distribution, added SOHR.
The UN has no Security Council mandate to reach the earthquake-stricken region in Syria, a further obstacle to aid delivery.
“Right now, every hour matters,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN. “People in the affected areas are counting on us.”
“We cannot let them down – we must vote immediately on a resolution to heed the UN’s call for authorisation of additional border crossings for the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” she said.
Turkey’s foreign minister last week said that Ankara was considering opening two additional border gates to speed up disaster relief efforts.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths, told Sky News on Saturday that he would request the Security Council authorise aid access through two more border crossings.
The UN’s ambassadors to Brazil and Switzerland, that took the lead in the UN Security Council on negotiating the emergency response to Syria, said on Friday that they wanted Griffiths to brief the Security Council before any action was discussed. Diplomats said Griffiths is likely to discuss it on Monday.
Washington on Sunday also called on all parties in Syria to immediately grant access to humanitarian aid to those in need.
“All humanitarian assistance must be permitted to move through all border crossings, and distribution of aid must be permitted to all affected areas without delay,” a White House National Security Council said.
Currently, rescue work in Syria is carried out both by citizens themselves, and by the White Helmets, though this group, known as the Syrian Civil Defence Force, lacks sufficient human resources and equipment.
BBC correspondent Quentin Sommerville reported from northeast Syria on Sunday:
“Apart from a few Spanish doctors, no international aid teams have reached this part of Syria. It is an enclave of resistance from Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Under Turkish protection, it is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Islamist group that was once affiliated to al-Qaeda. The group has cut those links, but almost all governments have no relations with them. For our entire time in Syria, armed men, who didn’t want to be filmed, accompanied us and stood at a distance.”
Sommerville also explained that children were attempting to move rubble in the northern Syrian town of Harem, in the absence of international rescue teams.
Harem resident Fadel Ghadab told the BBC, “How is it possible that the UN has sent a mere 14 trucks worth of aid?” Ghadab lost his aunt and cousin in the disaster and said, “We’ve received nothing here. People are in the streets.”
Meanwhile, The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Sunday, and pledged $43 million in WHO earthquake response support for Syria and Turkey.