The UN insisted Thursday on the need to avoid “politicisation” of aid to earthquake victims in Syria, which faces international sanctions, and urged Washington and Brussels to ensure there were “no impediments”.
“Emergency response must not be politicised,” Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, told reporters in Geneva, saying aid needed to get to areas controlled by Damascus as well as those held by rebels.
Monday’s massive earthquake flattened entire sections of major cities in Turkiye and Syria, killing more than 17,100 people, injuring thousands more and leaving many more without shelter in the winter cold.
The situation is of particular concern in Syria, which has been ravaged by more than a decade of civil war and where at least 3,162 people have been killed in the quake.
“We need to do everything to make sure that there are no impediments whatsoever to the life-saving support that is needed in Syria,” Pedersen said.
Damascus has been hit by more than a decade of economic sanctions, and there have been calls for them to be temporarily lifted to facilitate the arrival of aid.
Others meanwhile highlight that sanctions are not designed to impede aid. When asked about this, Pedersen said he had been “discussing the issue, in particular with representatives from the United States and from the European Union”.
“They assure me that they will do whatever they can to make sure that there are no impediments to assistance coming to Syria to help in this operation,” he said.
The rebel-held areas of Syria near Turkey’s border are in a particularly dire situation since they cannot receive aid from government-held parts of Syria without Damascus’s authorisation.
Access and resources
At the same time, the sole border crossing used to shuttle life-saving aid from Turkey into conflict-ravaged Syria has seen its operations disrupted by the deadly earthquake.
A first aid convoy managed to cross there Thursday, and Pedersen voiced confidence that “there will be obviously more assistance coming”.
“Our immediate asks are two: access and resources. We need life-saving aid. It’s desperately needed by civilians, wherever they are, irrespective of borders and boundaries,” he said.
“We need it urgently, through the fastest, most direct and most effective routes,” he said.
Humanitarian aid in rebel-held areas usually arrives through Turkiye via a cross-border mechanism created in 2014 by a UN Security Council resolution.
But it is contested by Damascus and its ally Moscow, and under pressure, the number of crossing points has been reduced over time to just one from four.
Asked whether it would be possible to open more border crossings to get aid through, Pedersen told AFP that “the Turks are in the process of opening more crossings”.
But “those are not border crossings that have been approved by the UN, via the Security Council, so that means that it is difficult for the UN to use them”, he said.
Pedersen suggested though that countries might be able to do so.
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