UN officials warn against ‘politicization’ of relief efforts for Syria
These warnings coincided with a US statement asserting that Washington will continue to oppose any normalization with the Syrian government
By News Desk - February 09 2023

Iranian aid packages being unloaded in Aleppo. 8 February, 2023. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)

US-imposed Caesar Act sanctions against the Syrian government have impeded humanitarian efforts in the country following the devastating 6 February earthquake, the UN Resident Coordinator for Syria, Mostafa Benlamlih, said on 8 February.

Benlamlih also warned against the “politicization” of humanitarian efforts in Syria, referring to claims by western media outlets and certain aid groups that the government ‘prohibits’ aid from reaching opposition-held territory.

“The goal of UN organizations is to deliver a message about the suffering of the Syrians as a result of the sanctions imposed on their country … These sanctions have … prevented the arrival of millions of dollars to those affected by the earthquake,” Benlamlih told Syrian news agency SANA in an interview.

“Syria today is suffering from a ‘double crisis’ as a result of the ongoing war since 2011, as well as the earthquake, which made the situation more difficult … before the earthquake, there were 15 million Syrians in dire need of assistance,” he said, adding that now, the numbers have increased significantly.

One day later, UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pederson, warned against the politicization of earthquake aid.

“Emergency response must not be politicized … 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 on 9 February.

One day earlier, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken claimed that Washington was the ‘leading provider of aid to Syria and the Syrian people,’ despite also announcing a refusal to coordinate with the government, whose territory is inhabited by around 70 percent of the Syrian population. On the same day as Blinken’s statement, the UN warned that “very little” aid was reaching government-held territory.

Samuel Werberg, the regional spokesman for the US State Department, claimed on 8 February during an interview with Saudi television that Washington’s sanctions do not restrict humanitarian aid deliveries in any way. Despite this, Bassam Sabbagh, Syria’s permanent envoy to the UN, said on the same day that international cargo planes “refuse” to land in Syrian airports due to the threat of sanctions.

Coinciding with Werberg’s remarks was a statement by Washington’s permanent envoy to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Joseph Manso, who said that the US would continue to stand against normalization with the Damascus government.

“Our policy is clear. The American administration … will not normalize relations with Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and we do not support other countries’ move [to do so] unless there is real movement towards a political solution under UN Security Council Resolution 2254.”

This statement comes in the aftermath of the OPCW releasing its third report on the alleged chemical attack in Douma in 2018, which was put out as the US has been attempting in any way it can to obstruct a potential reconciliation of ties between Syria and Turkiye, which was in the works under Russian auspices before the massive earthquake ravaged both countries.

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