Turkey-Syria border crossing closes after dispute between Russia and UN Security Council members

Delivery of humanitarian to estimated 2.7m people is interrupted due to disagreement

The Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey into the jihadi-held area of Syria’s northwest Idlib province has been closed since Tuesday due to an authorisation dispute between Russia and other members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council.

About 80 per cent of humanitarian supplies needed for the UN-estimated 2.7 million residents of this area are delivered through Bab al-Hawa.

“If our draft [for a six-month renewal] is not supported, then we can just go ahead and close down the cross-border mechanism,” Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.

Russia cast the sole veto on a compromise resolution for a nine-month extension on Tuesday after four days of wrangling.


China abstained while the other 13 council members were in favour. The cross-border mission’s authorisation expired at midnight on Monday before Tuesday’s vote.

“Trucks are not crossing the border at Bab al-Hawa. They have been stopped. So needed humanitarian assistance is not getting to the people,” US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.

The disagreement erupted when Brazil and Switzerland – which oversee the council’s Syrian file – called for a one-year extension. Russia insisted on the six-month extension Moscow has demanded with each renewal since 2021.

Russia contends maintaining a system outside Syrian government control violates Syrian sovereignty. The Russian-supported government argues aid convoys must enter through legal entry points and cross territory it controls en route to the portion of Idlib ruled by al-Qaeda offspring Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which is backed by Turkey.

Mr Nebenzia told the council that annual renewal was acceptable five to seven years earlier when Syria was gripped with civil and proxy warfare “but looks completely anachronistic today”.

As Syria’s conflicts have wound down since 2019, Moscow and Ankara have agreed to maintain the status quo in Idlib. In recent months, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has reconciled with Arab leaders who had suspended relations with him and Syria has been readmitted to the Arab League, which calls for Syrian sovereignty to be respected.

Initially there were four council-mandated border crossings agreed on an annual basis, but Russia forced three to close and threatened to shut down Bab al-Hawa. Humanitarian aid agencies have contended that annual renewals enable them to plan and promote efficiency.

Two emergency crossings from Turkey were opened to expedite delivery of urgently needed medicine, shelters and food after the deadly and destructive February 6th earthquakes in Syria and Turkey, but these are set to close next month.

Before the Syrian conflict, Idlib had a population of 1.5 million. An influx refugees from nearby battlegrounds initially swelled the number of residents.

When in 2015, the province was seized by insurgents, Idlib became a dumping ground for government captured fighters. Many settled with their families in refugee camps where most depend on international aid.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

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