This is not because the underlying dynamics of the conflict have changed in any big way. As it has been for the last couple years, the Syrian government has regained control over most of the country — with the exception of parts of northern Syria near the border with Turkey. This includes much of the Idlib province, where a stalemate in the fighting endures.
Rather, what makes this such a perilous moment in the 10 year history of the Syria conflict is that the millions of people trapped in Idlib may soon face a near complete cutoff of the humanitarian aid upon which they rely.
Since 2014, the United Nations has mounted a massive humanitarian relief operation to serve people trapped in rebel held areas. The United Nations and international aid agencies have so far been able to deliver aid directly to besieged populations in Northern Syria via Turkey because of a Security Council resolution authorizing the cross border delivery of aid, even if the government of Syria objects. (Normally humanitarian relief operations require — for both practical and legal reasons — the consent of the government on whose territory aid is being delivered. But back in 2014, with millions of people displaced in areas outside of government control, and with the government refusing to let aid agencies operate in those areas, the Security Council made legal the ostensible violation of Syrian territorial sovereignty in order to enable the cross border delivery of aid.)
That was 2014. And that system worked for a while. But over the past 18 months the government of Russia has begun to object to this cross border aid delivery to the point where Moscow has used its veto power at the Security Council to force all but one remaining border crossing to close to international aid.
Today, we are facing a potential turning point in the crisis in Syria because Russia has signaled that it intends to veto a Security Council resolution allowing that last remaining border crossing to stay open. Unless an agreement is reached that border crossing will close on July 10, cutting off the last lifeline for millions of people in Idlib. A humanitarian calamity will follow.
On the line with me to discuss this situation is Vanessa Jackson, UN Representative and Head of Office for CARE International at the United Nations. CARE is a large international humanitarian organization that currently serves populations in Idlib through this last remaining border crossing. In our conversation we discuss the current humanitarian situation in Syria, and the dynamics around the ongoing debate on the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria.