By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) - United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock appealed to the Security Council on Wednesday not to cut a cross-border aid "lifeline" to some 3 million Syrians in the country's north as veto-power Russia questioned the importance of the long-running operation.
"We want to see both more cross-line and more cross-border assistance. The cross-border operation – which is a lifeline for more than 3 million people – cannot be substituted," Lowcock told the council. "We look to this council to ensure that that lifeline is not severed."
The 15-member Security Council first authorized a cross-border aid operation into Syria in 2014 at four points. Last year, it reduced that access to one crossing point from Turkey due to opposition from Russia and China over renewing all four.
Another showdown is likely over the renewal of the mandate for the operation, which expires on July 10. A resolution to extend council approval needs nine votes in favor and no veto from any of the five permanent members Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain.
Several council members are pushing to increase the number of cross-border aid access points.
"If we don't, people will die. It is that simple," deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills told the council on Wednesday. "One crossing point alone cannot meet the mass needs of the Syrian people."
Russia's deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy accused his Western counterparts of disregarding the importance of cross-line aid deliveries from Damascus and "making it obvious that they do not intend to take any steps that would create problems for the fighters holed up in Idlib.
"This hypocritical presentation of the issue is something that we cannot agree with. We are obviously going to have to take into consideration when taking a decision on extending the cross-border mechanism," he told the council.
In the past decade, the council has been divided over how to handle Syria, with Syrian ally Russia and China pitted against Western members. Russia has vetoed 16 resolutions related to Syria and was backed by China for many of those votes.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alex Richardson)