Syria extends opening of 2 border crossings with Turkey for quake aid

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Syrian government has agreed to extend by another three months the use of two border crossings with Turkey into the rebel-held northwest that were opened for aid delivery after a deadly earthquake in February, Syrian and U.N. officials said Saturday.

Syrian President Bashar Assad had agreed to open the border crossings at Bab al-Salameh and al-Rai for three months to allow aid to flow into Idlib province a week after the Feb. 6, earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria.

The earthquake has killed more than 50,000 people, including over 6,000 in Syria, according to the United Nations. The quake also displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Following a request by the U.N. and ensuing discussions, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad conveyed to U.N. Under-Secretary-General Martin Griffiths the decision by Syria's government to allow the U.N. to continue using the two border crossing points for an additional three months, said Eri Kaneko, spokesperson for the U.N. office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. Bassam Sabbagh tweeted that the period has been extended for another three months based on Syria’s determination to enhance “stability and improve the living and humanitarian” conditions of all Syrians. He added the move also aims to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need in all of Syria.

Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib is home to some 4 million people, many of whom had been earlier displaced during the country’s 12-year civil war, which has killed nearly half a million people.

David Carden, the U.N.’s Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis, said during a visit to Idlib earlier this month that since the earthquake some 2,000 trucks have crossed the border from Turkey, providing assistance such as shelter, food, medical supplies and other services.

Carden added that the earthquake damaged or destroyed the homes of about 855,000 people.

In 2014, the Security Council authorized four border crossings to deliver aid to northwest Syria — two from Turkey, one from Jordan and one from Iraq. In January 2020, Syria’s close ally Russia used its veto threat to reduce the number of crossing to the two from Turkey. The following July, China and Russia used their veto power to reduce the number to just a single crossing.