The United Nations announced on Monday that Syrian President Bashar Assad has agreed to open two new crossing points from Turkey to the country’s rebel-held northwest for the delivery of desperately needed aid and equipment to help millions of earthquake victims. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the agreement, which was made during a meeting between Assad and U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths in Damascus earlier in the day. Griffiths had spent the weekend viewing the devastation caused by the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that ravaged southern Turkey and northwestern Syria.
At a closed meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Griffiths announced Assad’s agreement to open the two new crossings for an initial period of three months. Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bassam Sabbagh, stated that Assad held a “positive and constructive meeting” with Griffiths and confirmed the need for urgent aid to enter all regions in Syria, including those under occupation and under control of the armed terrorist groups. Brazil and Switzerland, which oversee Syria cross-border issues in the council, requested for “quick implementation” of the agreement.
The United Nations has been under intense pressure to get more aid and heavy equipment into Syria’s rebel-held northwest since the earthquake struck a week ago, with survivors lacking the means to dig for other survivors and the death toll mounting. The toll in the northwestern rebel-held region has reached 2,166, according to the rescue group the White Helmets, while 1,414 people have died in government-held areas, according to the Syrian Health Ministry in Damascus. The overall death toll in Syria stands at 3,580.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric cited difficulties of operating during Syria’s 12-year war and said some aid is getting into the northwest, pointing to 58 trucks that arrived with aid through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing. France’s U.N. ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, said the earthquake is “a humanitarian tragedy that should not be politicized” and that there were two options—either the Syrian government grant additional access to the northwest or the Security Council would try to adopt a resolution authorizing additional crossing points to the region. Syria’s Sabbagh said no council resolution was needed.
De Riviere told reporters after the meeting that U.N. humanitarian officials said they were ready to send convoys through the three crossings. If the two new crossings work it will be fine, he said, but “if it doesn’t work I think the Security Council should get back to work” and look into a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter that would be enforceable militarily to ensure aid gets through to the northwest. Dujarric also stated that the U.N. has been trying to send a convoy to the northwest across conflict lines within Syria, but is still trying to get a green light from all parties.