Two Turkish sources revealed that Ankara is pressing to extend the introduction of aid to the northwestern regions Syria Which is controlled by the armed opposition and is home to more than 3 million civilians.
Reuters reported – citing the two sources it described as familiar with the negotiations – that Ankara is pressuring the United Nations and others to extend the entry of aid into northwestern Syria, as global attention and funding priorities shift towards suffering in other conflicts.
Turkey, which has for years supported Syrian factions opposed to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, has become a center for bringing aid into northwestern Syria since 2014, especially via Bab al-Hawa crossing Authorized by the UN Security Council.
There are currently no diplomatic relations between Turkey and Syria, despite some limited signs of normalizing relations officially severed more than a decade ago.
The Assad government unilaterally extended permission for the entry of aid through Bab al-Hawa until January 13, after the failure of the 15-member Security Council to reach an agreement last year.
After an earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria in February 2023, Syria granted another permission to bring in aid from the Bab al-Salam and al-Rai crossings (north of the country), but that will also end on February 13.
The two sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was necessary to extend the permits, especially for Bab al-Hawa, “to allow the planning of long-term humanitarian and development projects in the area.” One source said that adding deadlines caused “constant pressure and unpredictability,” as he put it.
The source added, “The United Nations is also discussing with the Syrian regime the possibility of extending this order indefinitely, this time without a limit of 3 or 6 months.”
The source added, “We are closely following the negotiations conducted by the United Nations regarding the use of these border crossings, and we are in constant contact,” adding that the Security Council may adopt a binding resolution if an extension is not agreed upon with Damascus.
Reuters said, “The Syrian government did not respond to its request to comment on the matter, but two aid sources told the agency that they had heard reassuring news” about Damascus's unilateral renewal of the Bab al-Hawa crossing.
Eri Kaneko, spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said, “Talks are continuing with Damascus regarding the delivery of cross-border aid, as it remains a lifeline for about 2.5 million people in the northwest of the country.”
Kaneko said, “5,000 aid trucks crossed into the region in 2023, of which 4,000 entered through Bab al-Hawa.”
Millions of people have fled Syria since the conflict began in 2011, including about 4 million refugees in Turkey. Millions more were internally displaced.
Al-Assad regained control over a large part of Syria with military support from Iran and Russia, and the fighting has largely subsided over the past years.
The Syrian opposition now fears that Assad will soon be able to “stifle” much-needed humanitarian aid.
Assad's government wants aid shipments to the northwest to pass through government-controlled areas – referred to as cross-line aid – and Turkey has said it supports cross-line and cross-border aid as long as it continues unimpeded.
The two Turkish sources said that other, hotter conflicts, such as those in Gaza and Ukraine, had prompted donors to reduce humanitarian funding for northwest Syria, affecting the amount of aid being sent.
One of the sources said, “We remind the donor countries that this may have serious consequences on the ground for the region, and even for Europe,” referring to a new wave of refugees that may occur towards the Old Continent via Turkey.