Border crossing at Bab al-Hawa between Turkey and Syria. [Source: english.enabbaladi.net]
On Friday July 9 the UN Security Council unanimously agreed to a conditional one-year extension of the Turkey/Syria border crossing at Bab al Hawa. As part of the agreement, the UN Secretary General needs to report regularly on what is happening with the aid going into the Al Qaeda dominated zone. Evidently Russia and China thought the time was not right to insist on principle.
A few weeks ago a friend had sent me a link to a Foreign Policy magazine news story about the Bab al-Hawa crossing, and asked, “Is this accurate?” What could be wrong with humanitarian aid?
There have been many such stories, both short and long. The essence of them all in Western media is that Bab al-Hawa must be kept open for humanitarian reasons. Many of the articles castigate Russia or any other country, such as China, that were contemplating blocking a renewal of the UN authorization of the border crossing.
There are important facts which Western media stories typically leave out or distort. Here are some reasons why the Bab al-Hawa border crossing should NOT have been renewed:
* First and foremost, the aid is supporting Syria’s version of Al Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS). They control the region on the Syrian side of the crossing. They are the foreigners and hard-core extremists who invaded Idlib from Turkey in 2015 plus those who left Aleppo and other cities when the militants were defeated by the Syrian army. Even if the United Nations inspects all the trucks going into Idlib province in northern Syria, the truck deliveries are ultimately controlled by HTS (formerly called Jabhat al-Nusra).
* The aid is effectively supporting the partition of Syria. Idlib province, and the militants which govern there, seek to separate permanently from Syria. They are attempting to Turkify the region through sectarian education, promoting the Turkish language and even using Turkish currency.
* The aid violates the United Nations Charter which requires that all member countries refrain from threatening the territorial integrity of another member state. Turkey and the United States are the major violators, since they have military troops illegally occupying Syrian lands. But it is a shame for the United Nations to be complicit through the authorization of aid to the breakaway Al Qaeda-dominated region.
* The aid to northwest Syria is prolonging the conflict instead of helping to end it. It is evident that, after failing to militarily overthrow the Syrian government, Western powers are now using other means to attack Damascus. They continue to interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs. Led by the U.S., they have economically attacked Syria while pouring support into the breakaway northwest region.
* Western aid to the Al Qaeda-dominated region distracts from the pain, damage, and destruction which U.S. and European sanctions have wreaked on most Syrians. The Caesar sanctions, imposed by the U.S. amid the Covid-19 pandemic, have had a horrendous impact. By outlawing the Syrian Central Bank and making it nearly impossible to trade with Syria, U.S. sanctions have undermined the Syrian currency. Many goods have increased in price by four and five and even ten times. Like a modern-day gangster, the U.S. has been openly stealing the oil and wheat from eastern Syria. The U.S. has attacked the electrical grid by prohibiting parts, engineering, or construction to repair or rebuild power plants. “Caesar” sanctions prohibit support for anything government-related, including schools and hospitals.
According to a December 2020 United Nations General Assembly resolution, Unilateral Coercive Measures such as the “Caesar” law are illegal and a violation of the UN Charter, international law, and international human rights law.
Yet because of U.S. global economic dominance, it is still in force and the U.S. claims the right to prohibit any country, company, or individual from supporting or trading with Syria. This is what makes U.S. claims of humanitarian concern so ironic and cynical.
* The Western aid to Syrians through Bab al-Hawa is discriminatory and serves to divide the country. Before the conflict Idlib province had a total population of 1.5 million persons and the number is LESS today. Much of the population left when the province was overrun by extremists. Some fled into Turkey; others fled to Latakia province to the west. Some opposition militants and their supporters chose to go to Idlib rather than reconcile with the government. For example, when East Aleppo was taken back by government soldiers, there were 8,000 militants and their families transferred—not hundreds of thousands as was incorrectly predicted in the wave of propaganda before East Aleppo was recaptured. So, in contrast to some estimates, there are probably one million or fewer persons in Idlib.
The civilians in northwest Syria are effectively being bribed to live there through cash payments and vastly greater relief. One thousand trucks per month are taking aid into northwest Syria. As noted in an United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) document, people are “incentivized by access to services and livelihoods.” This is understandable but the divisive effects are also clear. In contrast, there are about 17 million Syrians living under government control. They are receiving little of the aid. Instead, they are bearing the brunt of vicious U.S. unilateral coercive measures.
* Aid to civilians in Syria should be distributed fairly and proportionally. This can be done with monitoring or supervision by a respected international agency, such as the Red Crescent / Red Cross. In keeping with the UN Charter, Western countries should respect the political independence of the Syrian government and stop their continuing interference and efforts at “regime change.”
Weaponizing “Humanitarian Aid”
There are many Western NGOs crying out about Bab al-Hawa. For example, the International Rescue Committee (IRC)—which has often aligned its activities with the interests of U.S. foreign policy and provided a cover for CIA agents—has raised many millions of dollars which should have gone to help all Syrians but has not.
Their literature should be carefully considered, however, because—according to their 2019 tax returns—Western governments are their main funders at $440 million in 2019.
The CEO, David Miliband—a Blairite who served as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the UK—is well compensated at more than $1 million per year and, thus, we can be sure the IRC will keep on message with the U.S. State Department.
Humanitarian aid is big business and has been politically weaponized. While there are many well-meaning people working hard, there are also political agendas at work.
Russia, China and other nations in the UN Security Council should have tried to veto authorization of the Bab al-Hawa crossing—though unfortunately they have chosen not to.
Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is active with the Taskforce on the Americas and other organizations including Syrian Solidarity Movement and the Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center. Rick has researched and written articles challenging the trend toward corporatization of higher education. He is an active supporter of KPFA (listener sponsored radio) and Rossmoor Voices for Justice in Palestine. Rick was a full-time activist in his early years, had a 25-year detour working as an engineer in the electronics and aerospace industries, primarily at UC Berkeley, and has now returned to work full time where his heart is: progressive international causes. He can be contacted at email@example.com.