Blinken at UN calls for opening of border crossings for Syria aid

US Secretary of State pleads for more access for UN aid to population of strife-torn Syria

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the UN Security Council to reopen border crossings into Syria blocked by Russia, saying world powers should be ashamed by their inaction.

Chairing a virtual Security Council session on Syria on Monday, the mild-mannered top US diplomat spoke with clear passion as he voiced outrage at Syrians’ continued suffering 10 years into the war, Agence France-Presse reported.

“How is it possible that we can’t find in our hearts the common humanity to actually take meaningful action?” said Blinken, recalling his own two children.

“Look into your hearts,” he implored. “We have to find a way to do something – to take action to help people. That is our responsibility. And shame on us if we don’t.”

United Nations relief supplies into Syria, where most of the population relies on aid, as of July 2020 can enter only one crossing — Bab al-Hawa on the Turkish border.

Veto-wielding Russia, which is allied with President Bashar al-Assad, successfully opposed other crossings on the grounds that they violate the Damascus government’s sovereignty.

“Sovereignty was never intended to ensure the right of any government to starve people, deprive them of life-saving medicine, bomb hospitals or commit any other human rights abuse against citizens,” Blinken said.

He pointed to a Russian attack last week near the Bab al-Hawa crossing that disrupted all aid delivery into Syria.

Russia and the Syrian government have launched several air and missile attacks in recent weeks on rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria near Turkey.

Russian jets hit a gas facility, a cement factory and several towns and cities near the Turkish border on March 21. Syrian army artillery killed seven civilians and injured 14 medics in an attack on a hospital in the area, according to witnesses and rebel sources who spoke to the Reuters news outlet.

A US air raid on February 26 destroyed buildings in Syria near the Iraqi border that US officials said were owned by an Iraqi militia group tied to rocket attacks on US forces in northern Iraq.

A close-up view of destroyed buildings at an Iraq-Syria border crossing after a US attack on February 26, 2021 [Maxar via Reuters]

Blinken called for the reopening of closed crossings at Bab al-Salam, also on the Turkish border, and Al-Yarubiyah on the Iraqi border, saying that they respectively supplied four million and 1.3 million Syrians.

“Let’s give ourselves more pathways, rather than fewer pathways, to deliver food and medicine to the Syrian people,” Blinken said.

“And let’s not pressure Syrian refugees to return until they feel they can do so in safety and in dignity,” said Blinken, the stepson of a refugee who has often spoken of the need to protect people.

The border issue is expected to come to a head again in July when the one remaining crossing comes up for renewal by the Security Council.

“The Security Council takes up so many challenges that are complicated. This is not one of them. The lives of people in Syria depend on getting urgent help. We have to do everything in our power to create ways for that aid to get to them – to open pathways, not to close them,” Blinken said.

Blinken warned that the UN must provide aid to Syrian doctors and health workers to help Syria address the coronavirus pandemic.

“Already, doctors, nurses, health workers in Syria are getting sick and dying at alarming rates due to COVID-19. That’s only going to get worse,” Blinken said.

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