Russia and China have vetoed a last-ditch attempt by members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to extend approval – which expires on Friday – for humanitarian aid to be delivered across two border crossings into Syria from Turkey for the next six months.
The UN says millions of Syrian civilians in the mostly rebel-held northwest of the country depend on the humanitarian aid delivered from Turkey, describing it as a “lifeline”.
The remaining 13 council members voted in favour of the German-Belgian draft resolution on Friday. The UN authorisation, which allows the body to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without needing permission from Damascus, is due to expire later in the day.
The 15-member council has been split, with most members pitted against Syrian allies Russia and China, who want to cut the number of border crossings to one, arguing those areas can be reached with humanitarian help from within Syria.
This was the third failed vote on the issue by the council and the second veto by Russia and China this week.
The UNSC first authorised the cross-border aid operation into Syria six years ago, which also included access from Jordan and Iraq. Those crossings were cut in January due to opposition by Russia and China.
On Tuesday, Russia and China vetoed a bid to extend for a year-long approval which would have allowed for the maintenance of two crossing points on the Turkish border – at Bab al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.
Russia then failed to win enough support on Wednesday for its proposal to authorise one crossing for six months.
Germany and Belgium, two non-permanent Council members responsible for the humanitarian aspect of the UN’s Syria dossier, presented the draft on Thursday that was put to vote on Friday.
“We categorically reject claims that Russia wants to stop humanitarian deliveries to the Syrian population in need,” Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy wrote in a tweet ahead of the vote.
Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays reporting from the UN said if nothing is agreed on by the end of Friday, there would be no aid crossing the border for a time.
UN director Louis Charbonneau reacting to the vote said on Twitter: “Russia and China again cynically vetoed renewal of Syria UN cross-border aid mandate, this time hours before it expires.
“They politicise humanitarian aid like they accuse others of doing elsewhere. Millions of Syrians rely on aid. This could be virtual death sentence for many.”
— Widad Franco (@widadfranco) July 10, 2020
According to a statement from the Chinese ambassador, Bays said China would like some sanctions relief for the Assad regime in the resolution.
“That’s one thing that would potentially make them change their position,” Bays said.
But because the council is operating virtually during the coronavirus pandemic, members have 24 hours to cast a vote so a decision would not be known until Saturday.
The NGO Oxfam warned that stopping cross-border aid would be “a devastating blow to the millions of Syrian families who rely on this aid for clean water, food, health care and shelter”.
Russia and China argue the UN authorisation violates Syria’s sovereignty, and aid can increasingly be channelled through Syrian authorities.
In the only concession to Moscow, the new draft asked for just a six-month extension of cross-border aid authorisation, instead of one year. But Germany and Belgium still wanted both border crossings kept open.
According to Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, keeping only one border crossing open would cut off 1.3 million people living north of Aleppo from humanitarian aid.
David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, described the veto as a “dark day” for Syrian civilians and the UN.
He added it “defies logic or humanity to dismantle a system designed to bring life-saving aid to Syrians in the form of food, health supplies, vaccines, and now critical COVID-19 provisions”.
Russia has vetoed 16 council resolutions on Syria since Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on protesters in 2011, leading to civil war. For many of those votes, Moscow has been backed in the council by China