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Dec 17, 11:29 AM EST

UN extends cross-border aid delivery to Syria for a year

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to Syrians in rebel-held areas without Syrian government approval.

The resolution, sponsored by Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg, expresses grave distress at the "devastating humanitarian situation" and the fact that 12.2 million Syrians require urgent assistance including medical aid. They include 7.6 million people displaced inside Syria, 4.5 million in hard-to-reach areas and 212,000 in besieged areas.

"This is the biggest single humanitarian crisis the world faces at the moment," Australia's U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan said after the vote.

The resolution extends until Jan. 10, 2016 the authorization for U.N. agencies and aid organizations that assist them to deliver humanitarian assistance without approval from President Bashar Assad's government across conflict lines between government and rebel forces, and through four border crossings - two in Turkey, one in Iraq and one in Jordan. One crossing from Iraq, now controlled by extremists, has never been used.

The U.N.'s decision in July to authorize the movement of aid into war-torn Syria without Assad's consent was heralded as unprecedented, and marked the first time that humanitarian need trumped a nation's sovereignty.

So far, however, the number of people who have benefited from aid delivered under terms of the resolution is in the hundreds of thousands, not the 2.9 million people the U.N. humanitarian office said could be helped if security allowed.

Quinlan blamed the impediments and restrictions of the Syrian government for the failure to deliver large quantities of aid.

"There's very little we've been able to do. It's just obvious," Quinlan said. "Ultimately, there will be accountability. The council will make sure of that."

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said his fellow ambassadors were "lying" when they said the Syrian government had not been cooperating with aid efforts.

Despite the low number of people getting aid, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos urged the Security Council to extend the mandate for cross-border deliveries because the U.N. has gotten aid to nearly all hard-to-reach locations in four governorates.

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