U.N. to vote on Syria aid access on Saturday

It is unclear whether Russia and China would support or veto the Western- and Arab-backed resolution

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A vote on a U.N. draft resolution to boost humanitarian aid access in war-torn Syria will be held on Saturday, Reuters reported.

Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg finalized the draft on Wednesday, which includes demands for cross-border aid access, an end to shelling and aerial bombardment - including barrel bombs - and threatens “further steps” in the event of non-compliance.

These were among the main sticking points during almost two weeks of negotiations. Western diplomats said it was unclear if Moscow and Beijing - two of the five veto-wielding powers on the 15-member council - would support or block the resolution.

Russia, supported by China, has shielded Syria on the U.N. Security Council during the three-year-long civil war. They have vetoed three resolutions condemning Syria's government and threatening it with possible sanctions.

“Of course the decision will be taken in Moscow,” said a U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It does remain uncertain but, objectively, nothing in this humanitarian text should be unacceptable for any delegation.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday Russia would block the adoption of a resolution that allowed aid convoys to enter Syria without the consent of the Damascus government. He also warned earlier on Wednesday that the draft resolution should not be “politicized.”


U.N. in touch with al-Qaeda for aid

Meanwhile, U.N. officials have admitted that the international organization is working with an al-Qaeda group in Syria to facilitate aid delivery to besieged areas, The Times reported Thursday.

The officials said their humanitarian staff were forced to “talk to everyone they can” in the nearly three-year conflict including with al-Nusra Front, which is blacklisted by the U.N. as a terrorist group.

“In all conflicts humanitarians have to talk to everyone they can to get access,” The Times quoted Amanda Pitt, the chief spokeswoman for the U.N. Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as saying.

However, the officials described the contacts as “indirect,” through phone or Skype.

Syria chemical weapons

In a related story, Denmark’s premier, whose country is a key player in an international operation to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal, said Wednesday she was “cautiously optimistic” the timetable for doing so will be met, Agence France-Presse reported.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt was speaking during a meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades aboard the Danish frigate HDMS Esbern Snare, which is escorting Syrian chemical weapons shipments and is operating out of nearby Cyprus.

“I am still cautiously optimistic in terms of keeping the timeframe that we have adopted, but it is important that we put some pressure on the Syrians to live up to their part of the bargain, and we are here to fulfill the task,” Thorning-Schmidt said.

Under a U.N. resolution, Syria is to turn over all its chemical weapons for destruction, but Damascus has missed several key deadlines to move material and U.N. officials have urged it to speed up the process.

Syria says it remains committed to a June 30 deadline to destroy its entire chemical arsenal but that the ongoing civil war is causing delays.

Danish and Norwegian naval vessels are involved in the process of removing the materials from Syria, where they will be transhipped to a .U.S Navy vessel specially fitted with equipment to destroy them at sea.

“We have a mandate, we have the ship, we have the operational tools to fulfil this task and this is why we are here,” Thorning-Schmidt said.

“It is very important. We talk about chemical weapons that were used to kill a thousand people, and that is why this task is very, very important.”

She was referring to deadly chemical weapons attacks outside Damascus on August 21 that Western governments accused the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out.

(With Reuters and AFP)

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