December 18, 2019 / 12:10 AM / a month ago

U.N. Security Council set for showdown over Syria cross-border aid deliveries

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - For the past six years the United Nations and other aid groups have been crossing into Syria from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan at four places authorized by the U.N. Security Council to deliver humanitarian assistance to millions of people.

The 15-member council is aiming to extend approval for those operations this week, which U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describes as essential.

Russia, however, wants to cut the number of border crossings in half.

A resolution drafted by Belgium, Kuwait and Germany proposes increasing the authorized border crossings to five - by adding a third from Turkey - but Russia has put forward a rival text that would only approve current operations at two Turkish crossings.

When asked on Tuesday if Russia could veto the draft resolution by Belgium, Kuwait and Germany, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia described that text as “unacceptable and inviable.”

“If it so happens that our draft does not pass, this will mean that the mechanism that we have proposed to extend will not be extended,” he told reporters.

A resolution needs nine votes to pass and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, France or Britain. Last year Russia and China abstained in the council vote to extend approval for the cross-border humanitarian aid deliveries.

Russia has vetoed 13 council resolutions on Syria since a crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war. Islamic State militants then used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, Belgium, Kuwait and Germany and their seven elected counterparts on the Security Council expressed support for their draft resolution.

“The consequences of a non-renewal of the mechanism would be disastrous,” the 10 Security Council members, who are each serving two year terms, said. “This is a mechanism that enables life-saving assistance to reach 4 million people in Syria.”

In a Dec. 16 report to the Council, Guterres urged members to extend authorization of the cross-border aid deliveries.

“This aid has staved off an even larger humanitarian crisis inside Syria,” Guterres wrote.

“While I welcome ongoing efforts to scale up humanitarian assistance delivered from inside the Syrian Arab Republic, I reiterate that the United Nations does not have an alternative means of reaching people in the areas in which cross-border assistance is being provided,” he said.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool

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