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UN: Ability to Get Lifesaving Aid to 4 Million Syrians at Risk 

FILE - People hold boxes of aid donated by the Turkish Red Crescent in the border town of Tal Abyad, Syria, Oct. 19, 2019.

The U.N. humanitarian chief is urging the Security Council to authorize a one-year extension of cross-border aid operations into Syria, warning there is no backup plan for reaching millions of vulnerable civilians without it.

"Cross-border operations provide assistance that cannot otherwise reach those in need," Mark Lowcock told the Security Council president, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft, in the letter dated December 17 and seen by VOA. "The United Nations does not have an alternative means of reaching 2.7 million people in need in northwest Syria."

Lowcock said another 1.3 million people in the northeast receive lifesaving aid through a border crossing with Iraq. In all, about 4 million of the 11.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in war-torn Syria are reached through four crossing points from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

"Without the cross-border operation, we would see an immediate end of aid supporting millions of civilians," he wrote.

Russia's U.N. ambassador said Wednesday that the U.N.'s continued call for using the four border crossings, and its support for an additional one that Turkey has proposed, did not reflect "the realities."

FILE - Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia speaks with reporters.
FILE - Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia speaks with reporters.

"We have to recognize that things are changing," Vassily Nebenzia told reporters. "Our position is that we should reduce cross-border [crossings]; we should leave only those that are really needed to [reach] people who could not be reached otherwise."

Russia would prefer that the two crossing points on the border with Iraq and Jordan be closed and that the cross-border aid operation be renewed for six months instead of 12.

Last December, Russia and China abstained on the vote on continuing the cross-border mechanism for another year.

"Things aren't changing," British Ambassador Karen Pierce countered. "In the last few years, the situation has not changed materially to obviate the need for cross-border aid."

Council members Belgium, Germany and Kuwait hold the humanitarian file for Syria. They have drafted a resolution that includes Turkey's proposed fifth crossing point at Tal Abyad. They have warned that the failure to renew the cross-border mechanism would be "disastrous."

"It is winter. There are 4 million people whose lives are at risk. This is not the time to be playing around with numbers and figures in New York," Pierce said. "We have a proper assessment from the U.N. — the body the international community has given responsibility to — to get this sort of thing done. We should follow that."