Russia Should Keep Lone Syria Border Crossing Open or Syrians Will Die, U.S. Ambassador Says

Russia should keep open Syria's only remaining border crossing into Turkey where humanitarian aid can enter or Syrians will die, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.) said Friday, according to the Associated Press.

At the end of a three-day trip to Turkey, Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that if the Bab al-Hawa crossing is closed by Syria's closest ally, Russia, "it will cause senseless cruelty" for millions of citizens. A mandate for humanitarian aid deliveries to the country by the U.N. Security Council ends on July 10 and Thomas-Greenfield called on the council to renew it.

"We want the U.N. to bring food to starving children and protection to homeless families. We want the U.N. to be able to deliver vaccines in the middle of a global pandemic," she said.

Thomas-Greenfield mentioned that she would speak with the U.N.'s Russian ambassador about what she witnessed at the border and the concerns of Syrian citizens if their "one lifeline" for assistance is closed.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Displaced Syrians Near Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing
A Turkish soldier speaks to displaced Syrians near the town of Batabu on the highway linking Idlib to the Syrian Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, on March 2, 2020. Bab al-Hawa is Syria's lone border crossing where humanitarian aid can enter and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that Russia should keep it open or Syrians will die. Aaref Watad/AFP via Getty Images

Russia has limited cross-border transfers of humanitarian aid in recent years, insisting that the Syrian government should control all assistance to the millions of Syrians in need. International crossing points were reduced at Russia's insistence to the single border station leading from Turkey to Syria's rebel-held northwest.

"If this border crossing is closed, it will cause senseless cruelty," Thomas-Greenfield told reporters. "Without this border crossing, (Syrians) would die."

The United States is seeking the reauthorization of U.N. access at Bab al-Hawa and the reopening of other border crossings before the current U.N. Security Council mandate for humanitarian aid deliveries expires. There is strong support in the 15-member council for maintaining and even adding border crossings, but Russia holds the key.

"We call on the rest of the Security Council to renew this mandate so that we can stop the suffering and help those in desperate need," she said.

Thomas-Greenfield said she would meet with her Russian counterpart and other members of the Security Council to press for the extended access and the reopening of other border crossings. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also plans to discuss the issue with the Russian foreign minister, she said.

"In my engagement with (the Russian ambassador to the U.N.), I will share with him what I saw on the border, the concerns that people have, the worry that they have that this one lifeline that they have for the community and assistance might be closed," she said.

Thomas-Greenfield met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman and top aide to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during her stay in Turkey, which hosts some 4 million Syrian refugees.

Ankara and Washington once considered each other strategic partners, but ties steadily deteriorated in recent years over differences on Syria, Turkey's cooperation with Russia, and Turkish naval interventions in the eastern Mediterranean that U.S. officials have described as destabilizing.

"We have a nuanced, strategic relationship with our NATO ally, Turkey. We agree on some areas and we disagree on others. Maintaining humanitarian cross-border access into Syria is one place where our values are completely aligned," Thomas-Greenfield said.

At Bab al-Hawa on Thursday, Thomas-Greenfield announced nearly $240 million in additional U.S. humanitarian funding through the U.S. Agency for International Development to support Syrians and countries hosting Syrian refugees.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at Bab al-Hawa
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria on June 3, 2021, in this photo provided by the U.S. Embassy in Turkey. Uncredited/US Embassy in Turkey via AP