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LONDON: The UN is under growing scrutiny for failing to provide immediate assistance to northwestern Syria, which has yet to receive adequate aid after an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude struck the region, The Guardian reported on Friday.

The UN Security Council has authorized cross-border aid to Syrians in the country’s northwestern region and beyond since 2014. This is due to Syrian authorities illegally obstructing humanitarian access in areas under their control, according to the Cross Border Legal organization. 

However, due to Russian/Chinese vetoes, only one of the four border crossings originally authorized is still operational. 

Syrian rescue teams and residents of the region say the earthquake has created conditions not seen in the country’s 12 years of war, The Guardian reported. They warn that the death toll will rise further if the UN does not find a way to speed up aid delivery. 

“So far about 30 buildings have collapsed entirely and there are still so many people stuck in the rubble. We can’t get them out. Families have to find their people on their own,” Fared Mahloul, who resides in Idlib province, told The Guardian.

“We need supplies, lots of supplies. Homes and buildings are no longer livable. This is a catastrophe. This earthquake killed my uncle and his entire family. My other uncle lost his wife and her three sisters.

“We need so many things: nutrition, humanitarian aid, milk for the children, medicine. People are sleeping in tents, in schools and public buildings and we need as much international help as we can get. This is huge and horrible. There are nightmares to come.”

A total of 14 UN lorries entered the opposition-held part of Syria on Friday at the Bab al-Hawa crossing, containing humanitarian kit, solar lamps, blankets and other items, The Guardian reported. It came a day after a six-lorry convoy crossed the border with basic supplies. 

Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmets organization, which is the primary first responder in the northwestern region, said that Thursday’s aid delivery was planned prior to the earthquake.

He told The Guardian: “It is not aid and special equipment for the search and rescue teams, and the recovery of those trapped under the rubble, and this makes us very disappointed at a time when we are desperate for such equipment that will help us save lives. I confirm that nothing has been received to help us do that.

“There is no coordination with the United Nations to understand the reality and assess what are the basic issues that we face.

“The United Nations does not have any plan even for response, and this is a clear bias in humanitarian work and something unacceptable. It is a clear violation of the most important principle of the organization, of respecting the right to life of human beings.”

At least 3,500 people have been killed inside Syria, while thousands more remain trapped under rubble, The Guardian reported.

European countries on Wednesday sought advice on how to deliver critical supplies into Syria outside of the UN system, which has focused aid delivery on Damascus.

The UN has been accused of failing some of the world’s most vulnerable people by sticking to strict and contentious interpretations of international law.

Some 16 international jurists signed a letter prior to the earthquake calling for increased cross-border access to northwestern Syria.

The letter said: “Overly cautious interpretations of international law should not risk the lives of millions who continue to rely on cross-border aid in the north and northwest, nor should they be allowed to change and politicize the landscape of international humanitarian law.”

Humanitarian lawyers on Thursday ramped up their campaign for more cross-border aid.

“Although this letter was prepared within the context of wider humanitarian disaster in Syria, we now hope that it gives Miguel de Serpa Soares, the legal adviser to the UN, the legal support his office needs to save children still trapped under the rubble in Syria as we speak,” said Ibrahim Olabi, a lawyer from Guernica 37 chambers.

 “History is taking note,” Olabi added.

The Syrian American Medical Society has called for an immediate change in how aid is delivered.

“For years now, aid delivery into Syria, including medical aid, has been hampered by a political process inside the UN Security Council that relitigates the provision of cross-border aid every six months,” it told The Guardian.

It added: “Funneling all aid through one crossing, and having this entry point subject to a political process, makes aid provision fragile and slow. This was always a problem, but in the wake of this earthquake it is simply not tenable.

“Avoiding mass casualties from the secondary impacts of this earthquake will require a scaling-up of aid that one border crossing simply cannot handle.”



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