U.N. extends aid to Syria from Turkey, avoids Russia fight

United Nations in New York City

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Monday unanimously approved the delivery of humanitarian aid to some four million people in northwestern Syria for another six months, avoiding a traditional fight with Russia over the issue.

Authorization by the 15-member council is needed because Syrian authorities did not agree to the humanitarian operation, which has been delivering aid including food, medicine and shelter to opposition-controlled areas of Syria since 2014.

Despite Western animosity toward Russia over its invasion of Ukraine nearly 11 months ago, the council avoided a usual fight over approval of aid deliveries into Syria from Turkey. In July last year, the council voted three times, eventually agreeing an extension two days after authorization had expired.

Diplomats told Reuters last week that council members had informally agreed to a text approving the operation for six more months, which was drafted and negotiated by Ireland and Norway before they finished two-year terms on the council on Dec. 31.

The current approval of the U.N. aid operation was due to expire on Tuesday. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia described it as a "difficult decision" to support the resolution and that it was not a change in Russia's position.

Russia, which has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war that began in 2011, argues that the aid operation violates Syria's sovereignty.

"The resolution fails to reflect the aspirations of the Syrian people who expect from the Security Council, in addition to effective humanitarian efforts, respect for Syria's territorial integrity and its sovereignty," Nebenzia said.

The United States, Britain and France stressed on Monday that a one year extension of the operation was needed when the Security Council next considers the issue in July.

"This resolution represents the bare minimum," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the council, adding that a 12 month extension was needed to allow the aid groups to "procure, hire, and plan" effectively.

The Security Council initially authorized aid deliveries in 2014 into opposition-held areas of Syria from Iraq, Jordan and two points in Turkey. But Russia and China have whittled that down to just one Turkish border point.

Russia says more aid should be delivered from inside Syria, but opponents of Assad fear that food and other aid would fall under government control.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in December that aid deliveries from within Syria "remain unable to replace the size or scope" of the U.N. operation, which he said was a lifeline for millions.

"The United Nations is committed to pursuing all avenues to provide aid and protection through the safest and most direct and efficient routes," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said after the vote.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)