A UN aid convoy entered northwest Syria on Friday in the first such shipment into opposition-held areas since the deadly February earthquake.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on its Twitter account that several trucks carrying humanitarian supplies entered northwest Syria from government-held Aleppo, in line with Security Council Resolution 2672.

The resolution, adopted in January, allows for the delivery of aid into Syria for six months from the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey.

The UN launched a cross-border aid operation into war-torn Syria in 2014 through four main entry points from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. But deliveries through three crossing points — al-Ramtha (Jordan), al-Yarubiyah (Iraq) and Bab al-Salam (Turkey) — were closed in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, due to opposition from Russia and China. Moscow, Damascus’ main backer, insists that all aid coming into Syria must go through the government.

Rights groups have urged concerned parties to renew Resolution 2672, which expires next month, as more than 4 million Syrians in the northwest are in need of urgent humanitarian support.  

“The magnitude of the multiple crises impacting northwest Syria demands the reauthorization of cross-border assistance for a minimum of 12 months,” 32 Syrian and international NGOs said in a press release on Thursday.

The press release stated that “needs across the nation were already at an all-time high” even before the earthquake and warned that “the subsequent disruption and reduction in aid flows will prove devastating for those already at breaking point.”

Two quakes struck Turkey and Syria in early February, killing more than 50,000 people, including 7,259 in Syria, according to UN figures.

In the wake of the earthquake, the issue of cross-border aid quickly became politicized. President Bashar al-Assad took advantage of the outpour of aid to the disaster-stricken areas to renew his demands that Western sanctions be lifted, claiming they are impeding aid access.  

Several countries that imposed sanctions on the Syrian regime over its alleged war crimes approved a six-month exemption to allow the flow of aid into Syria following the earthquake.

In a report on Thursday, Human Rights Watch sounded the alarm about the worsening conditions in northern Syria and the need to keep aid flowing, calling on the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union to maintain the sanctions-related exemptions that expire in August. The rights organization argued that these sanctions negatively affect the Syrian population.

Although Assad agreed to the temporary opening of two additional border crossings with Turkey for three months in the wake of the earthquake, aid had been prevented from reaching areas in the northwest under the control of rebel groups, which Assad labels as terrorists.

The last UN aid convoy that arrived in northwest Syria was in January, a month before the earthquake.

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