Even before Monday’s devastating earthquake, getting aid to all parts of war-battered Syria was fraught with daunting political and logistical challenges, AP reports.
Those hurdles have only multiplied in the wake of the disaster that has killed thousands in Turkey and Syria and brought down thousands of buildings.
Damage to roads and other infrastructure in southern Turkey has stalled aid from reaching northern Syria, an area already devastated by 12 years of conflict.
Meanwhile, the government of Bashar Assad in Damascus is still a pariah in much of the international community, sanctioned by the U.S. and European countries, which are reluctant to route aid directly through the government. American and EU officials have made clear the quake won’t change that.
Emergency workers say delays could cost lives, as local rescue crews struggle to pull families and children from the rubble and find housing for survivors amid brutal winter weather.
A key issue complicating the dispersal of aid is “the war and the way the aid response is split between rebel areas and Damascus,” said Aron Lund, a fellow with New York-based think tank Century International who researches Syria.
While the majority of Syria is under the control of the government in Damascus, most of the north is controlled by different — and sometimes conflicting — groups. The northwest is divided between land de facto controlled by Turkey and by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a rebel group with ties to al-Qaida. Syria’s northeast is mostly held by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led groups.
Foreign aid for years has been brought into northwestern Idlib province by way of Turkey, because of the difficulty of going by way of Damascus. But the area of southern Turkey traditionally used as a staging area has itself been heavily damaged by the earthquake.
Aid delivery into northwestern Syria was “temporarily disrupted” Tuesday, a United Nations spokesperson told The Associated Press, due to infrastructure damage and difficulty with road access.
In particular, damage to the Hatay airport and the road to the border crossing used for aid, Bab al-Hawa, was delaying shipments, said Emma Beals, a nonresident fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
“There is also the fact that there are enormous needs in Turkey itself,” she said.
One cause for hold-ups is that the U.N. mandate for delivering aid to the territory only allows it to enter through Bab al-Hawa crossing, Beals said. Also, international search teams may be reluctant to enter earthquake-affected areas controlled by HTS, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.
The group’s “presence limits the kinds of aid many donors are prepared to supply to the area,” she said.
The government in Damascus and its allies in Russia have seized the moment to renew their push for aid to the north to be routed through Damascus. Countries opposed to Assad do not trust the Syrian authorities to effectively deliver aid to opposition areas and worry it would be diverted to benefit people and institutions linked to the government.