Strategic border crossing reopens allowing UN aid to reach rebel-held northwest Syria

This is a locator map for Syria with its capital, Damascus. (AP Photo)

BAB Al-HAWA, Syria (AP) — A United Nations aid convoy reached rebel-held northwest Syria on Tuesday after a vital border crossing from Turkey reopened following an agreement with the Syrian government.

The 17-truck convoy carrying medicine, medical equipment, food supplements and other supplies crossed into Idlib through the strategic border-crossing of Bab al-Hawa on Tuesday afternoon.

Last month, the U.N. reached an agreement with Syria's government to reopen the crossing, used to deliver 85% of aid to Syria's northwestern Idlib province, where the majority of its 4.5 million residents live in poverty after being internally displaced during Syria's conflict, now in its 13th year.

The deal was agreed on after the U.N. Security Council failed to authorize two rival resolutions on July 11 to renew the border crossing's authorization. The United States, United Kingdom, and France were key advocates of the U.N. aid delivery, whereas Syria's key allies, Russia and China, called for delivering aid to rebel-held areas through Damascus instead.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the resumption of humanitarian deliveries saying that “our humanitarian operations have continued to assist millions of people in need in northwest Syria,” his spokesman said. Stephane Dujarric added that the Bab al-Hawa crossing has long been central to the U.N.’s efforts to deliver aid in the northwest.

Dujarric added that with more people than ever requiring humanitarian aid in Syria amid the country’s economic crisis, “the secretary-general underscores the need for ever greater efforts to be made to ensure we reach all those who need it.”

The U.N. has been exclusively using two northern crossings to deliver aid to rebel-controlled areas since July 9, making it extremely challenging because of the length of the routes and poor infrastructure. In August, the U.N. sent 195 trucks loaded with aid to the rebel enclave.

“U.N. aid is the artery for the citizens of northwestern Syria. Without it, there would be a humanitarian disaster in the area,” Mazen Alloush, an official on the Syrian side of the border crossing, told The Associated Press. He said he hoped more convoys would reach the area in the coming weeks

The United Nations did not immediately comment on the aid delivery.

The Syrian conflict started as an uprising against President Bashar Assad in 2011 and was met with a harsh crackdown that plunged the country into years of civil war, killing nearly half a million people and displacing half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.


Edith M. Lederer, chief U.N. correspondent for the AP, contributed to this report.