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Russia, Syria Accuse US of Using UN's Aid to Resupply Armed Militias

By Vusala Abbasova March 4, 2021

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Girls sit in a makeshift tent camp in the north of Syria. / Aaref Watad / UNICEF

A joint Russian-Syrian coordination center for refugee repatriation has condemned the United States for exploiting the humanitarian situation in the Rukban refugee camp to seize the United Nations aid and provide it to Syria-based militants in the Al-Tanf settlement.

“The study of the situation around the Rukban camp for IDPs in the US-occupied 55-kilometer area near Al-Tanf shows that the United States is using the situation to put pressure on the UN leadership, regularly raising the issue of the need to deliver humanitarian aid to the camp residents,” reads the statement issued by the Russian Defense Ministry on Monday. “At the same time, the Americans actually are expecting to use this cargo to supply the fighters under their control and operating in this area, as it has happened more than once.”

Located at the Syria-Jordan border, Rukban has more than 40,000 Syrian refugees, most of whom were displaced from Homs, Hama, and Damascus. The camp is located about 35 miles (about 56 kilometers) away from the US-controlled Al-Tanf military base. US armed forces in Al-Tanf established a 55-kilometer de-confliction zone along with the Iraq and Jordan–Syria border, however, Moscow and Damascus claim Washington is providing a haven for rebels in the de-confliction zone. In addition, Russia has repeatedly pointed out that the Rukban camp controlled by US military units is used as a foothold for terrorists and extremists.

“The reluctance of the USA to remove fighters of illegal armed groups from the Al-Tanf area, that stay under their control confirms that the USA is interested in keeping the camp and their true intention regarding the Rukban camp lies within supporting the "conveyor" for training extremists in order to maintain hotbeds of tension in Syria,” reads the statement.

Meanwhile, two humanitarian corridors opened by the Russian and Syrian coordination centers in the Jleb and Jabal al-Ghurab settlements in 2019 allowed some refugees to leave the Rukban refugee camp through the corresponding checkpoints. The Syrian authorities voiced their readiness to accept all citizens leaving the Rukban camp and provide them with safety and decent living conditions. As a result of the consistent and coordinated actions of Russia and Syria, more than 17,000 Syrian citizens have already left the Rukban refugee camp so far.

In the recent statement, Russia and Syria also jointly condemned Washington for violating the country’s territorial integrity, recalling the recent US airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in the east of the country.

“The United States conduct air strikes on the territory of Syria and continue to occupy its territory. At that, there is no hint of rebuilding the safe and decent peaceful life in the territories under their control,” reads the statement. 

On February 26, the US military carried out airstrikes against two militia groups, including Kait’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border, generating concern among lawmakers who said President Joe Biden did not asked for the necessary congressional authorization. In a statement issued on Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby explained that the airstrikes were conducted as a response to recent attacks on the US and coalition forces in Iraq. 

The Kremlin condemned Washington’s move and called for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to be unconditionally respected.

“Our military were notified of this four or five minutes before the strike. Even if we talk about de-conflicting, which is customary in relations between Russian and US military personnel, this kind of notification, when a strike is literally in the process of happening, doesn’t do much,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told at a press conference on February 26.