Syrians praise UN aid vote, aid groups wary of reductions

Idlib (Syria) (AFP) –


Resident's of Syria's last major opposition bastion Saturday welcomed a UN vote renewing cross-border aid to the country, as relief groups condemned restrictions to the programme which is helping millions.

The United Nations Security Council on Friday voted to extend humanitarian aid to Syria, including to some of the most needy in the northwestern region of Idlib.

But under pressure from Syrian regime ally Russia it scaled back the programme that allows the UN and its partners to deliver aid using border crossings not controlled by the Damascus government.

The council agreed to prolong the assistance for only six months instead of renewing it for a year as it had done previously.

It also decided that the aid will enter Syria through just two crossing points along the Turkish border, instead of four.

A key entry point for aid along the Iraq border which had been instrumental in chaneling aid to around 1.3 million people in northeastern Syria was scrapped.

Despite the restrictions, Syrians in Idlib breathed a sign of relief.

"I was so pleased when I heard the news this morning," said Abu Abdo, an unemployed father of four.

The 36-year old said he, like millions of Idlib residents who rely on cross-border aid entering from Turkey, depends on humanitarian assistance for his and his family's survival.

"I live off this assistance," he told AFP, saying continued aid deliveries would mean that he would not "die from hunger".

Mohammad Abu Said, a 29-year-old father of two, echoed a similar sentiment.

Friday's vote, he said, was a positive development for a province housing three million people, nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of the country.

"Most of us (in Idlib) rely on humanitarian aid because there is no work or income," he said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Friday four million Syrians are being supported by cross-border operations, 2.7 million of them in the northwest and another 1.3 million in the northeast.

- 'Distressed and dismayed' -

Syria's almost nine-year war has killed more than 380,00 people and displaced over half of the country since 2011, with the latest wave fleeing a deadly regime assault on the opposition stronghold of Idlib.

Heightened attacks on the jihadist-held region since December have displaced more than 300,000 people.

Regime air strikes on the Idlib region on Saturday killed six civilians, including four from the same family, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor.

The uptick in violence in recent weeks has sparked warnings from international aid groups of a new humanitarian tragedy and Friday's vote to scale down vital aid deliveries drew angry reactions.

"Save the Children condemns the scale back," the UK-based charity said in a statement.

"The border crossings serve as a lifeline to more than four million civilians inside Syria -- including two million children -- the majority of whom cannot receive vital aid by any other means," it said.

"There is no excuse for limiting the resolution's scope... when attacks on civilian infrastructure continue" said the charity's Inger Ashing.

The International Rescue Committee on Friday said it "is distressed and dismayed at this turn of events".

It especially condemned the closing of the Iraq-Syria crossing, which it said "will immediately halt critical medical supplies and disrupt at least half of the healthcare response in northeast Syria".

In December, Russia and China vetoed a European proposal to extend for a year the aid entering Syria through three points on the borders with Turkey and Iraq.

To avoid another Russian veto, the security council on Friday adopted the down-sized program.