On Tuesday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution extending Syria’s cross-border assistance system by six months, a deadline Russia has demanded while other members have been asking for a full year.
This measure was supported by 12 of the 15 members of the Security Council, including Russia, China and 10 non-permanent members of the group.
Western countries have called for a one-year extension, arguing that six months is not enough time to properly plan for the delivery of aid to war-torn Syria.
The UK, France and the US abstained from the vote, stating their opposition to the shorter duration.
“Russia has forced everyone into action: either the system will be shut down or it will be extended for six months,” the ambassador, who requested anonymity to discuss an in-principle extension agreement reached on Monday among 15 council members, told AFP.
“We couldn’t let people die.”
The mechanism for delivering humanitarian aid across the Turkish border into rebel-held Syria at the Bab al-Hawa checkpoint is the only way United Nations aid can reach civilians without bypassing areas controlled by Syrian government forces.
The system, which has been in place since 2014 and which more than two million people rely on, expired on Sunday.
The agreement presented by Ireland and Norway breaks the stalemate that threatened to disrupt the delivery of vital supplies.
It also provides for an extension in January 2023 for another six months, subject to the adoption of a new resolution, the diplomats said.
Both Ireland and Norway on Tuesday expressed relief that the cross-border mechanism would continue.
But non-governmental groups have come out in sharp criticism of Russia and criticized the United Nations process as unsustainable and inadequate.
“It is outrageous that Russia has yet again succeeded in blackmailing members of the Council, this time by reducing the extension to six months, so that the permit expires in the middle of winter,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
British-founded charity Oxfam said the system of multiple short-term assistance windows was creating unnecessary uncertainty in an already difficult situation for vulnerable Syrians.
The resolution is “deeply disappointing and could potentially leave more than four million people in northwestern Syria without the help they depend on to survive as the harsh winter months roll in,” Oxfam’s Brenda Mofya said.
Russia, an ally of Damascus, on Friday vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have extended the mechanism by one year. The Western powers then voted against Moscow’s initial rival resolution that proposed an extension of the approval by just six months.
The new Irish-Norwegian text provides for an extension in January 2023 for another six months, subject to the adoption of a new resolution.
More than 4,600 aid trucks, carrying mostly food, crossed Bab al-Hawa this year, helping some 2.4 million people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.