Damascus opens new border crossings as militants obstruct aid efforts
In a press conference on Monday, extremist militant commander Abu Muhammad al-Jolani rejected the idea of receiving aid from government-held territory
By News Desk - February 14 2023

(Photo credit: AFP)

The Syrian government has officially opened two new border crossings in northern Syria in order to provide earthquake relief aid to people in opposition-held territory, Deputy Head of the Russian Reconciliation Center, Major General Oleg Yegorov, said at a briefing on 13 February.

“In compliance with President Bashar al-Assad’s instructions in the interest of delivering assistance to affected people in territories not controlled by the Syrian government, checkpoints have been unilaterally opened in Saraqib and Abu Azeidin. Convoys with humanitarian cargoes, which include food products, heating devices, and tents … are ready to set off for the affected areas escorted by representatives of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC),” Yegorov said.

Yegorov’s statement followed high-level talks between Assad and UN aid chief Martin Griffiths in Damascus on the same day, during which the Syrian president agreed to open the crossings.

“It’s going to make a big difference. We are now using just one crossing,” a UN spokesman told media in reference to the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkiye.

While western media outlets have attempted to pin the hindered aid delivery efforts to northwestern Syria on “the Assad government’s mismanagement and refusal to engage with all areas,” it appears to be armed groups who have impeded humanitarian efforts.

On 12 February, a UN spokesman told media that the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) extremist group, formerly known as the Jabhat al-Nusra Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, was preventing a SARC humanitarian aid convoy at the Saraqib border crossing from entering Idlib. The Saraqib crossing is the link between Idlib and the territories held by Damascus.

That day, an HTS source was quoted as saying that the group “won’t allow the regime to take advantage of the situation to show they are helping,” despite Damascus having openly announced its intention to provide aid to all areas of Syria. The following day, HTS leader Abu Muhammad al-Julani claimed during a press conference that his group “does not have teams ready to secure these deliveries.” This was seen by many as HTS’ outright refusal and rejection of any aid deliveries coming from government territory to the opposition-held north, given that Jolani failed to provide a proper explanation as to why this aid could not make its way through.

“There is no need to dispatch our technical teams to bring aid in from regime territory … The Bab al-Hawa crossing is there … For those who want to help, Bab al-Hawa is open, God willing,” the former Nusra emir said, despite the fact that the Bab al-Hawa crossing was badly damaged in the earthquake.

During Monday’s briefing, Yegorov added that the “lack of security guarantees on territories controlled by illegal armed groups complicates the delivery of assistance to those affected by the earthquake, who are in dire straits.”

In a since-deleted news article by Syrian outlet North Press Agency (NPA) released on 14 February, NPA cites an exclusive source as saying that a day earlier, international organizations suspended their operations and withdrew from the town of Soran in the northern Aleppo countryside after members of the Turkish-backed militant coalition, the Syrian National Army (SNA) looted a humanitarian aid delivery. As a result, ‘clashes erupted’ between the militants and the town’s inhabitants.

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