February 9, 2023 | Flash Brief

First Aid Delivery After Quake Reaches Northwest Syria

February 9, 2023 | Flash Brief

First Aid Delivery After Quake Reaches Northwest Syria

Latest Developments

Monday’s earthquake shut down the sole border crossing through which United Nations (UN) aid reaches northwest Syria from southern Turkey. This morning, however, a half-dozen UN trucks reached the Bab al-Hawa crossing, raising hopes that humanitarian supplies will reach Syrians in need.

Northwest Syria has 4.6 million inhabitants, of whom 2.9 million are internally displaced persons, according to the UN. Bashar al-Assad’s regime obstructs almost all efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the northwest via Damascus. In 2014, the UN Security Council (UNSC) began allowing UN agencies to bypass Damascus and deliver aid across the Turkish border, yet

Russian veto threats have imposed growing restrictions on this effort. Specifically, Moscow insists that all aid flow through a single crossing, creating the risk of a total cut-off amid an emergency.

Expert Analysis

“In northwest Syria, millions depend on humanitarian aid delivered by the UN and paid for by the U.S. and other donors. Assad or Putin could easily lift restrictions on cross-border deliveries, for example, by allowing the UN to use multiple crossings to provide emergency relief. But the priority for both is to make the northwest dependent on Damascus while diverting as much aid as possible into the regime’s bank accounts. There is an urgent need for Washington and its partners to set up an alternate aid channel for northwest Syria so that Assad and Putin can’t use its people as humanitarian hostages.” — David Adesnik, FDD Senior Fellow and Director of Research

An Enclave Outside Assad’s Control

In 2020, the Assad regime, with support from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, launched an offensive to retake the northwest from Islamist rebels who are backed by Turkish forces. The effort was partly successful, but the COVID-19 pandemic and a worsening economic crisis in Syria appear to be preventing further assaults. Instead, Moscow and Damascus have sought to increase pressure on the northwest by interfering with humanitarian operations. Washington has rallied other members of the UNSC to support cross-border aid, yet Russia’s veto threats have resulted in compromises that favor Damascus.

The Corruption of the UN’s Damascus-Based Aid Machinery

Last year, the World Health Organization, a UN agency, removed the head of its Damascus branch amid allegations that she gave lavish gifts to government officials and steered official contracts to regime-favored businesses. The scandal followed a long series of reports by non-governmental organizations describing how UN agencies had resigned themselves to the regime’s penetration and manipulation of their efforts. For example, Assad forces the UN to accept distorted exchange rates, which enabled him to divert more than $100 million of aid money to the regime in 2019 and 2020.

Related Analysis

How Russia Won the UN Showdown Over Syria,” by David Adesnik

The Road to Damascus is Paved with Good Intentions,” by David Adesnik


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