The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote Friday on whether to continue humanitarian aid operations from Turkey into northern Syria. Western council members, the U.N. and humanitarian groups have proposed a 12-month continuation of the operation, while Russia, Syria’s closest ally, proposed a six-month extension on Thursday, setting the stage for two votes on rival draft resolutions. If no agreement or compromise is reached, the aid operation could be forced to shut down on Saturday.  Negotiations continued throughout this week.“The penholders are still firmly committed to the most ambitious renewal we can have,” Ireland’s envoy Geraldine Byrne Nason told reporters on Thursday. Ireland and Norway are the penholders – the drafters – of resolutions on Syria’s aid filed in the Security Council.“As we have said so many times, this is a purely humanitarian issue and we are talking about millions of Syrians that are suffering and are in need of this assistance,” Norway’s U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, told reporters. Without the aid trucks coming from Turkey – about 1,000 a month — it would be much more difficult, if not nearly impossible to send food, clean water, medicines and COVID-19 vaccines to northern Syria, due to obstruction from the government in Damascus. “In the midst of a pandemic, how can we possibly justify closing a reliable delivery route for vaccines?” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters earlier this week. “How can we justify cutting off innocent children – or anyone for that matter – from food, from clean water and from medicine? The answer to this is simple: We can’t. We must renew this mandate.”    China’s U.N. envoy, Zhang Jun made clear that Beijing sees this negotiation as about more than continuing the cross-border aid operation.   “I sincerely hope with more diplomatic efforts we can find a solution, but for China definitely we want to see solutions concerning unilateral sanctions, concerning cross-line, concerning the transparency of cross-border [aid],” Ambassador Zhang told reporters on Tuesday. “We are not simply tackling the extension of the cross-border, we are talking about the general humanitarian situation in Syria, and we need to tackle all the fundamental issues.”  Russia, China and Syria’s government argue that all humanitarian assistance to the country’s north should move across conflict front lines, under the control of the Assad government. But the United Nations and aid agencies on the ground say the cross-line operation is inadequate to meet the tremendous demands.      When the council initially authorized the aid operations in 2014, four crossing points were activated – two from Turkey, one from Iraq and one from Jordan. In the last two years, Russia and China have forced the closure of all but one – Bab al-Hawa, which connects southern Turkey with northwest Syria.   

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