US slams 'shameful' China, Russia veto on Syria aid
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday described as "shameful" Russia and China blocking a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended for a year cross-border humanitarian aid to four million Syrians.
"The Russian Federation's and China's veto yesterday of a Security Council resolution that allows for humanitarian aid to reach millions of Syrians is shameful," Pompeo said in a statement.
"To Russia and China, who have chosen to make a political statement by opposing this resolution, you have blood on your hands."
Humanitarian aid currently flows into Syria through UN-designated checkpoints in Turkey and Iraq without the formal permission of the regime in Damascus, but that authority is due to expire on January 10.
Germany, Belgium and Kuwait presented a resolution extending that authority for a year, winning the support of 13 council members but drawing the vetoes of Russia and China.
A competing Russian resolution would have granted a six-month extension while reducing the number of UN crossing points, but it failed to get the minimum nine votes.
'A state of shock'
Russia, an ally and major supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has used its veto 14 times on Syrian issues since civil war broke out there in 2011.
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, said the latest resolution was "obsolete" because the authorities in Damascus had "retaken control of most" of Syria's territory.
But the UN humanitarian relief department says the aid remains crucial as the situation on the ground has deteriorated and Syria is heading into winter.
Four million Syrians directly benefit from the cross-border aid shipments.
"I am in a state of shock," Kelly Craft, the US ambassador, said after the Russian and Chinese vetoes. "I am deeply and profoundly disappointed."
British envoy Karen Pierce said the Russian veto showed "breathtaking hypocrisy" by Moscow.
The resolution failed just as tens of thousands of civilians have been fleeing the northwestern Idlib region amid heavy bombardments by Assad's Russian-backed government, in the last bastion of the jihadist opposition.
Read more: Syria Weekly: Syrians organise evacuation of besieged Maarat Al-Numan
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said tens of thousands of civilians have fled southern Idlib since Monday and headed north for safety, as fighting flares in the rebel-held area, fuelling an already dire humanitarian situation.
"Following the intensification of airstrikes and shelling since 16 December in southern Idlib, tens of thousands of civilians are reportedly fleeing from Maaret al-Numan area in southern Idlib governorate to (the) north," OCHA said.
The UN agency said a shortage of fuel for private vehicles is limiting the movement of civilians while roads leading out of the town are "extremely dangerous" as they are reportedly being hit by airstrikes.
"Since the evening of 19 December, residents of Maaret al-Numan town... began to communicate to the humanitarian community that they wanted to move to safety, but were unable to move due to the heavy aerial bombardment," the UN agency said.
"The numbers of families who already fled in the past 72 hours are estimated to have reached tens of thousands and there are thousands of others who are potentially waiting for the airstrikes and bombardment to ease to allow them safety to move," it added.
'Situation is very bad'
On Friday alone "hundreds of families are reported to have fled north", it said.
The UN agency said the displacement of civilians was straining an already dire humanitarian situation, specially because it is happening during the winter.
"Displacement happening in winter months is exacerbating the vulnerability of people in need.
"Many of those who fled are in urgent need of humanitarian support, particularly shelter, food... (and) non-food items such as winter clothes and health services," it said.
OCHA said that some of the displaced who moved north had not eaten in days.
"Renewal of intensive fighting in the south-eastern sector of the Idlib province may result in more and more people being displaced towards northern parts of Idlib," OCHA warned.
Syria's war has killed over 500,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.