Why Humanitarian Corridors in Syria May Provoke New Fighting

Syria is the greatest human tragedy since World War II. According to UN reports, more than 260,000 people have been killed, more than half of the Syrian people have been displaced, infrastructure and entire areas have been destroyed. Even worse is the use of civilians by terrorist groups as human shields, and as hostages, when needed, to make deals on.

As Russia plays on all fields in Syria, it has devoted great efforts to humanitarian assistance to help Syrian people in such a hard time. In December 2016, Russia initiated the establishment of four humanitarian corridors to the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo to allow aid to enter and to evacuate hundreds of emergency medical cases. Moscow has shown effective cooperation with the United Nations to evacuate Syrian civilians from the eastern part of Aleppo controlled by terrorists. That has helped thousands of Syrians to be saved and receive the necessary assistance.

Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, declared that starting from February 27, and on the instructions of President Vladimir Putin, a humanitarian corridor had been opened in Eastern Ghouta to release the civilians. Simultaneously, Shoigu proposed to open corridors from the Rukban refugee camp in Al Tanf, controlled by the United States. Ceasefire does not in any way include cessation of strikes against terrorist groups such as ISIS, Nusra and all their collaborators.

Although Syrians in Al Tanf and the Rukban refugee camp are badly in need of the Russian initiative for humanitarian assistance, still there are many challenges facing its implementation. Among the most important is the American resistance and uncooperative policy. The US-occupied area stretches 55 kilometers around Al Tanf, which has become a safe zone for ISIS. The United States is impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid across that region. It has not allowed humanitarian aid convoys to enter the area and has failed to ensure that the United Nations representatives and international humanitarian organizations reach the Rukban refugee camp. There are more than 60,000 women and children from al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor living in catastrophic circumstances in the Rukban camp. Americans block humanitarian assistance to them from the Syrian government, Jordan or even international organizations.

It is also obvious that humanitarian corridors can only succeed if they are respected by armed groups. Eastern Ghouta is the last stronghold of the armed groups and Nusra near Damascus. They hit the humanitarian corridor with mortar shells, preventing civilians from leaving and assistance from reaching them. This means that fighting may escalate as a result of violations by armed groups and their insistence on hiding themselves behind civilians.

Despite the nobility of the Russian initiative and its humanitarian targets, there are obstacles from other parties that do not care a lot about the Syrian people and their suffering. The regional ones, Turkey and the Arab Gulf states, should pressure their fellows within armed groups to respond positively to the Russian initiative. The United States must also prove its interest in human rights through real steps and help to open humanitarian corridors to the Rukban camp. Unfortunately, both seem to be far from reachable and Russia will most probably continue to fight alone to save Syrians.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.