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Displaced Syrians appeal for support ahead of UN aid vote

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Idlib (Syria) (AFP)

Displaced Syrians spending the winter out in the open and non-governmental organisations have appealed for international support ahead of a decisive UN Security Council vote on cross-border aid.

The UN Security Council was to vote Friday on extending humanitarian aid to Syria, including to some of the most needy in the northwestern region of Idlib, with Damascus regime ally Russia pushing instead for a reduction.

Authorisation for the aid, which enters the country without the formal permission of Damascus, has been in place since 2014 and was to expire on the day of the vote.

Four million Syrians directly benefit from the cross-border aid shipments.

At an informal camp in Idlib, 65-year-old Manae al-Muhsin begged for help for his eight children huddled under a makeshift tent in a muddy field.

"We're besieged by bombardment, mud and hunger," said the father, who fled air strikes on his hometown of Maaret al-Numan last month.

"We ask the UN to bring aid to the Syrian people in Idlib," he said, near his new haphazard home of blankets and tarpaulin thrown on a frame.

Syria's almost nine-year war has killed more than 380,00 people and displaced over half of the country since 2011, with the latest wave fleeing a deadly regime assault on the opposition stronghold of Idlib.

Muhsin and his family are among more than 310,000 to have fled their homes in the jihadist-run region in recent weeks, and they are now struggling to survive.

"We even had to rent this patch where we're sitting between the olive trees in the mud and rain," said the now unemployed family head.

- 'Critical time' -

International non-governmental organisations have stressed renewed authorisation for cross-border aid is vital, especially for Idlib.

"The last thing the region needs is for the delivery of humanitarian aid to be compromised at such a critical time," International Rescue Committee head David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary, said Thursday.

Earlier this week, a handful of NGOs gathered outside Idlib city to call for the continuation of desperately needed humanitarian deliveries.

"The largest disaster in nine years is unravelling today in Idlib," said Qutayba Sayyed Issa, head of the Violet aid organisation.

Already, the humanitarian response in the region has covered only 60 percent of needs, he said.

Lubna Saad, a paediatrician who likewise had to flee her home in December, said she was alarmed by the number of infants dying because of the cold.

She reported at least four in just three days.

"I beg the UN secretary-general to come to Idlib and see the suffering... The disaster is bigger than what I can describe in words," she said.

In December, Russia and China vetoed a European proposal to extend for a year the aid entering Syria through three points on the borders with Turkey and Iraq.

A rival Russian resolution proposed to extend the authorisation for just six months via only two entry points through Turkey, but it failed to get enough votes.

Charity heads in Idlib said failure to renew the UN resolution would seriously reduce aid to the region, though they would try to continue working.

Zaher Sahloul, head of the MedGlobal organisation, said UN aid to Idlib would have to be approved by Damascus. It would leave millions of people in Idlib "at the mercy of the regime", he said.

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