Russia and China cast vetoes on Tuesday to block the UN Security Council from extending its approval of aid deliveries to Syria from Turkey for a year, despite UN warnings that the lives of Syrian civilians depend on the cross-border access.
The more than six-year long operation is currently authorized until Friday. The remaining 13 council members voted in favor of the resolution drafted by Germany and Belgium.
The Security Council will now vote on a rival Russian text that would only approve one Turkish crossing for aid access for six months. During the coronavirus pandemic the council has been operating virtually, which means members have 24 hours to cast a vote on a draft resolution.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric said earlier on Tuesday cross-border access was “vital to the wellbeing of the civilians in northwest Syria … Lives depend on it.”
The Security Council in January allowed the cross-border aid operation to continue from the two Turkish crossings for six months, but dropped crossing points from Iraq and Jordan due to opposition by Syrian ally Russia and China.
Last month Germany and Belgium proposed reopening the Iraq crossing for six months to help Syria combat the coronavirus, but it was cut from the draft resolution that was put to a vote on Tuesday, again due to opposition by Russia and China.
Syrian government authorities have confirmed more than 250 cases of the coronavirus, including nine deaths, the United Nations has said.
Western diplomats have said the closure of the Iraq crossing cuts off 40% of medical aid to northeastern Syria.
In December Russia and China vetoed a draft text that would have authorized the crossing points from Iraq and Turkey for one year. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, France or Britain to pass.
A crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington supporting the opposition. Millions of people have fled Syria and millions are internally displaced.