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Syria opens key aid corridor to rebel-held areas: UN envoy

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Damascus will let humanitarian aid flow through Syria’s main border crossing into rebel-held areas, reopening a conduit that had closed after a Security Council stalemate, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the country’s UN ambassador on Thursday.

The Damascus government has made a “sovereign decision” to let aid move overland from Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa crossing in northwest Syria for six months starting Thursday, Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh told reporters.

The UN largely delivers relief to northwest Syria via neighboring Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

But a deal allowing for this mechanism to work — without the authorization of Damascus — expired on Monday.

The UN says more than 4 million people are in need in northwest Syria. The aid arrangement brings them food, water, medicine and other essentials.

Russia on Tuesday vetoed a nine-month extension of the agreement and then failed to muster enough votes to adopt just a six-month extension, during a vote at UN headquarters in New York.

After the Syrian concession Thursday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman said the UN had just received a letter from Syria to this effect and is studying it.

Even as the Bab al-Hawa crossing closed, two other crossings remained operational. President Bashar al-Assad opened them after devastating earthquakes in February that killed tens of thousands of people in Turkey and northwest Syria.

But 85 percent of the aid reaching rebel-held areas went through Bab al-Hawa.

Damascus regularly denounces the aid deliveries as a violation of its sovereignty, and Russia has been chipping away at the deal for years.

Moscow is a major ally of Damascus, and its intervention in Syria since 2015 helped to turn the tide in the regime’s favor.

Syria’s conflict has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced millions and battered the country’s infrastructure and industry.

The 15 Security Council members had been trying for days to find a compromise to extend the cross-border aid deal, which has operated since 2014.

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