The United States on Sunday called for the United Nations Security Council to "vote immediately" to authorize the delivery of U.N. aid to rebel-held northwest Syria through more border crossings from Turkey after last week's deadly earthquake.
Since 2014, the U.N. has been able to deliver aid to millions of people in need in the northwest part of war-torn Syria through Turkey under a Security Council mandate. But it is currently restricted to using just one border crossing.
"Right now, every hour matters," Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said in a statement to Reuters. "People in the affected areas are counting on us."
"We cannot let them down - we must vote immediately on a resolution to heed the U.N.'s call for authorization of additional border crossings for the delivery of humanitarian assistance," she said. "It's time to move with urgency and purpose."
U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths, who is in Turkey and is due to visit Syria, told Sky News on Saturday that he would ask the Security Council to authorize aid access through two more border crossings, arguing there is "a very clear humanitarian case."
Griffiths "is working the phones very hard on that front on the diplomatic front, speaking to everyone to unlock more border crossings," spokesperson Jens Laerke said.
Griffiths would brief the U.N. Security Council on Monday and hoped to use a "water-tight argument" about urgent needs to overcome historic resistance from Russia — a key ally of Damascus — to the cross-border aid operation.
On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had pushed for more access.
On the 15-member Security Council, Brazil and Switzerland take the lead on negotiating any action related to the Syria humanitarian aid access issue. Diplomats said no draft resolution has yet been circulated to authorize more crossings.
The death toll from the earthquake last week in Turkey and Syria passed 33,000 on Sunday. Of the 3,500 deaths so far reported in Syria, where the number has not been updated for two days, the bulk occurred in the northwest part of the country.
A resolution would need nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, Britain or France to pass. Syrian ally Russia has said that the existing council mandate for a single border crossing was sufficient.
The Syrian government views aid deliveries across its border without its approval as a violation of sovereignty and says aid should be delivered across the front lines of the 12-year-old civil war. On Friday, it approved aid deliveries across front lines.
But the U.N. said on Sunday that earthquake aid from government-held parts of Syria into the northwest part of the country has been held up by "approval issues" with one hardline group.
The ambassadors of Brazil and Switzerland said on Friday they wanted Griffiths to brief the Security Council before any action was discussed. Diplomats said Griffiths is likely to speak to it on Monday.
Griffiths on Sunday visited the one Turkish border crossing that the U.N. is currently authorized to use to deliver aid to northwest Syria, where about 4 million people needed help before the earthquake struck the region.
"We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria," Griffiths said in a post on Twitter.