No progress seen despite intense UN talks on Syria aid

This picture taken on December 12, 2019 shows a camp for displaced Syrians at Khirbet al-Joz in Syria's Idlib province near Turkey; most of its residents survive on aid brought across the border

UN Security Council members held an intensive round of meetings Friday on the humanitarian crisis in Syria's embattled Idlib province amid calls to reauthorize urgently needed cross-border aid.

Humanitarian aid currently flows into northwestern Syria -- a last rebel stronghold -- through UN-designated checkpoints in Turkey and Iraq without Damascus's formal permission.

But that arrangement is set to expire on January 10, and with only a week to find a solution, diplomats said Friday they had no progress to report so far.

Several also said there had not yet been any discussion of how this week's killing by the US of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani might affect matters in Syria, where Shiite forces under his sway play an outsized role.

In a first closed-door meeting Friday, requested by Britain and France, Security Council delegates were briefed by the under- secretaries general for political and humanitarian affairs, respectively Rosemary DiCarlo and Mark Lowcock.

The council issued no statement afterward.

Two other closed-door sessions were held on the aid question.

The first brought together the council's five permanent members -- the US, Britain, France, Russia and China.

The second involved the 10 non-permanent members, all of whom support a continuation of cross-border aid even without Damascus's permission, one diplomat said.

When the council took up the matter on December 20, Russia and China vetoed a resolution that would have authorized continued aid deliveries for a year through four border points -- two with Turkey, one with Jordan and one with Iraq.

Three million people in the Idlib region benefit from the aid, according to the UN.

Damascus maintains that only 800,000 people in Idlib are in need of aid.

Russia, a key supporter of the Syrian government, has said it would support only a six-month extension, involving only two passage points on the Turkish-Syrian border.

An earlier Russian draft proposal to that effect won only nine of the 15 Security Council votes needed for approval.

Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, told reporters on Friday that there was "no longer any justification for cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid."

He added that all aid must pass through Damascus.

Referring to Idlib, he said, "The Syrian government is determined not to give up its rights and duty as a sovereign state to eliminate the last stronghold of terrorism."

Despite a truce announced in August, Idlib -- a last rebel stronghold -- has seen a resurgence of violence in the last several weeks, hit by bombardments from Syrian and Russian forces, and with government forces clashing against jihadists and rebels.