UN to vote on aid deliveries to Syria's rebel areas

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United Nations (United States) (AFP)

The UN Security Council will vote Tuesday on extending for one year cross-border deliveries of humanitarian aid to Syria's opposition-held areas after Russia demanded changes to the relief effort.

Since 2014, UN aid convoys have crossed the border from Turkey and Jordan -- without the approval of the Syrian government -- and are now delivering food to one million Syrians per month, on average.

Russia last month said it was seeking changes to the UN resolution authorizing the cross-border aid operation, arguing that the shipments were not sufficiently monitored and that they undermined Syria's sovereignty.

After weeks of negotiations, Russia however appears to have agreed to a one-year extension of the aid operation, diplomats said Monday.

A unanimous vote at the council on the cross-border aid would mark a rare show of unity over Syria after Russia used its veto power to end a UN-led probe into chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The United Nations maintains that the cross-border deliveries are a lifeline to Syrians living in opposition-held territory because the government in Damascus has heavily restricted aid shipments to those areas.

More than 13 million people need humanitarian aid in Syria, now in its seventh year of war.

- Monitoring aid -

A draft resolution seen by AFP would allow convoys to cross into Syria until January 10, 2019 and request that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recommend ways to strengthen monitoring.

That would address complaints from Russia, Syria's ally, that the aid shipments are falling into rebel hands.

A council diplomat said Russia, backed by China, had asked that the operation be renewed for six months only, but that Sweden, Japan and Egypt - which led negotiations on the draft - rejected that proposal.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council last month that the cross-border aid effort "cannot remain as it presently stands", saying shipments were falling "in the hands of terrorists" and re-sold to Syrians at high prices.

UN aid officials reject Moscow's complaints and maintain the trucks are thoroughly checked to ensure they contain only aid. The deliveries are confirmed by monitors once they arrive at warehouses inside Syria.

Russia backed the cross-border aid when it was first authorized by the council in 2014, which has renewed the aid operation twice since then.

At the outset, the measure covered more territory in opposition-held hands, reaching nearly 3 million Syrians in need but government forces, backed by Russia's intervention in 2015, have retaken large swaths.

The draft resolution expresses "grave alarm" at the dire situation in the besieged opposition-held area of eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, which has come under fierce bombardment by government forces.