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Russia, China abstain in U.N. vote on Syria cross-border aid

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia and China on Thursday abstained from an annual United Nations Security Council vote to extend approval for cross-border humanitarian aid deliveries in Syria because Moscow said the four-year-old authorization was "divorced from reality."

The remaining 13 council members voted in favour of the resolution drafted by Sweden and Kuwait. It renewed action first taken by the council in 2014 to allow aid deliveries into then rebel-held areas at four border crossings from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, even though Syria warned against the measure.

However, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia complained that the text was outdated as one of those crossings was now back in Syrian government hands and the situation elsewhere in the country had changed.

"The fact that the stabilizing trends are strengthening in Syria is undeniable ... Despite remaining problems there are positive steps in improving the humanitarian situation," Nebenzia said.

"This is a critical moment and the international community needs to now give a helping hand to the Syrians in order to overcome the devastation and making sure that people who voluntarily decided to return can live normally," he added.

But Western countries say they will not approve reconstruction funding for Syria, or drop sanctions on the Syrian government, without a political settlement to end the more than seven-year conflict.

"The Assad regime supported by its backers has not only created an environment that makes humanitarian aid essential for millions of Syrians, but it continues to use aid as a weapon of war," British U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce told the council.

U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the council on Thursday that cross-border aid "provides a critical lifeline for millions of Syrians who cannot be supported through other means."

China's U.N. Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu said international aid operations in Syria should "scrupulously observe the principles of neutrality, impartiality and non-politicization."

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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