UN votes on Syrian resolution letting aid pass through rebel-held area.

WATCH: Syria: New satellite images show vast destruction and displacement in Idlib

The U.N. Security Council was voting Saturday on a resolution that would extend humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria’s mainly rebel-held northwest from Turkey through just one crossing point, as Russia has insisted.

Russia, Syria’s most important ally, has argued that aid should be delivered from within the country across conflict lines and just one crossing point is needed.

The U.N. and humanitarian groups argued unsuccessfully — along with the vast majority of the U.N. Security Council — that two crossing points were essential to get aid to the 2.8 million needy people in the northwest, especially with the first case of COVID-19 recently reported in the region.

Saturday’s vote capped a week of high-stakes rivalry between Russia and China, and the 13 other council members who voted twice to maintain the two crossings from Turkey that were in operation until their mandate ended Friday.

Both times, Russia and China vetoed the resolutions — the 15th and 16th veto by Russia of a Syria resolution since the conflict began in 2011 and the 9th and 10th by China.

Germany and Belgium, who sponsored the widely supported resolutions for two crossing points, were forced to back down by the threat of another Russian veto, and their latest draft would authorize only a single crossing point from Turkey for a year.

Results of the email vote by the 15 Security Council members were expected to be announced later Saturday.

Ahead of the vote, Physicians for Human Rights’ Policy Director Susannah Sirkin said Russia and China’s “cynical and cruel manoeuvring” to cut off life-saving aid using their veto power and seeking to close one critical border crossing “is one more tragic example of the broken U.N. humanitarian system, and a defamation of its Charter.”

Voting on the resolution follows the council’s rejection earlier Saturday of three proposed amendments — two by Russia and one by China.

Russia, in two resolutions this week that failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes needed for adoption, raised the issue of U.S. and European Union sanctions against Syria and their negative impact on Syria’s humanitarian situation. The U.S. and EU vehemently objected to this allegation, saying their sanctions provide humanitarian exemptions.

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The amendment proposed by Russia to the latest draft resolution asked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to include information in his reports to the council every 60 days on the “direct and indirect humanitarian impact of unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria.”

That amendment was soundly defeated with just five countries voting in favour, six against and four abstentions, diplomats said.

Russia and China were joined by Vietnam, South Africa and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in voting “yes” while the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia voted “no,” the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the vote has not yet been publicly released.

Another proposed Russia amendment “recognizing improvement in cross-line deliveries” and “encouraging all relevant parties to further increase cross-line humanitarian operations to all parts of Syria” was also defeated.

And a Chinese amendment that would recognize measures proposed by Guterres concerning the response to “the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to conflict-affected areas, in particular his appeal for an immediate global cease-fire” also failed.

In January, Russia scored a victory for Syria, using its veto threat to force the Security Council to adopt a resolution reducing the number of crossing points for aid deliveries from four to two, from Turkey to the northwest. It also cut in half the yearlong mandate that had been in place since cross-border deliveries began in 2014 to six months.

Russia has insisted from the beginning of negotiations that it wanted to cut back aid deliveries to a single crossing point for six months. Germany and Belgium wanted to maintain the two crossing points — Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam — for a year.

After the latest Russian veto on Friday, Germany and Belgium circulated a draft resolution to extend the mandate through the Bab al-Hawa crossing for a year and the mandate for the Bab al-Salam crossing — which Russia wanted to eliminate — for three months to wind up its activities.

But Russia objected to even three months, so it was eliminated, diplomats said.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft tweeted Friday: “Russia & China are using politics to prop up the Assad regime while more than 3 million people are in desperate need of aid. We cannot allow the Bab al-Salaam border crossing, where 30 per cent of UNICEF’s aid enters Syria, to close. The lives of 500,000 children are at risk.”

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, tweeted Thursday that the Bab Al-Hawa crossing “accounts for more than 85 per cent of total volume of operations.”

“We categorically reject claims that Russia wants to stop humanitarian deliveries to the Syrian population in need,” he wrote.

He urged Western nations to support the Russian draft authorizing only the Bab Al-Hawa crossing warning that if they blocked it — which they did on Friday — “they will be responsible for the consequences.”

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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