Syria and UN agree deal on humanitarian aid for jihadi-held region

Reopening Bab al-Hawa border crossing makes it possible to reach 2.7 million people in need

United Nations secretary general António Guterres has welcomed an “understanding” with the Syrian government authorising UN aid deliveries through the main Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey into Syria’s jihadi-held western Idlib province.

A UN relief agency spokesman said it would “resume aid operations through the Bab al-Hawa crossing as soon as possible”.

The agreement is seen as a victory for the UN and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. After 12 years of ostracism during the Syrian war, he has restored relations with the Arab world and seeks international acceptance and an end to Western sanctions which have prevented postwar reconstruction and economic recovery.

Bab al-Hawa – which handled 95 per cent of UN aid deliveries – has been closed for a month. During this time, 2.7 million people in need in Idlib have relied on emergency stockpiles and deliveries through the smaller Bab al-Salam and al-Rai crossings. They were opened by the government after February’s earthquakes in Syria and Turkey, and under the new deal, they will continue to function until mid-November.


The closure was due to UN rejection of Syrian conditions for resuming traffic when a Security Council mandate expired. The US, France and UK had sought council authorisation for a year. They were prepared to compromise on nine months but, after they vetoed Russia’s six-month proposal, Bab al-Hawa closed.

The Syrian government offered to reopen the crossing on condition the UN would end dealings with internationally designated “terrorists” and distribution should be handled by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The “understanding” was reached after UN relief co-ordinator Martin Griffiths and the government agreed the UN could “engage with different actors” and his office would supervise operations.

By conceding its demands, the government can claim the restoration of Syrian sovereignty over Bab al-Hawa and the establishment of control over UN traffic. “This is a 100 per cent win for the regime because it allows it to achieve multiple goals,” Britain’s Chatham House regional consultant Haid Haid told the Washington-based Al-Monitor website.

After being excluded from decision-making, the Syrian government could secure aid deliveries and become “the main player” in this effort, he said, adding that the outcome.“sets a precedent” for dealings with the government.

Having secured the reopening of Bab al-Hawa, the UN must secure funding for aid to Syria. Refugees International spokesman Jesse Marks has warned that “drastic World Food Programme cuts announced in June are now being felt across Syria among some of the country’s most food insecure people”.

The cuts were “due to reduced donor support” and affected 2.5 million people in government-held Syria and three million in Idlib who were “already food insecure”, he said. He called on USAid and other donors to boost funding for WFP aid to Syria and “reverse additional planned cuts to food aid for September”.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times