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UN: Syrian Humanitarian Crisis 'Bleak'

  • Margaret Besheer

FILE - U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos addresses a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, March 2014.

FILE - U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos addresses a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, March 2014.

The U.N.’s humanitarian chief painted a bleak picture Friday of the situation in Syria, saying the plight of civilians has not improved and that millions remain in dire need since the Security Council united in demanding better aid access five weeks ago.

Valerie Amos told reporters after her private briefing to the 15-nation council that the situation for millions of desperate Syrians has not gotten better and will not improve unless there is “full and unhindered access.”

“I told the Council that we need to see a significant step-change in the speed and scale of humanitarian aid, if we are to save lives and keep pace with the ever-growing needs," she said. "This piecemeal approach, despite the best efforts of humanitarian workers on the ground, is not delivering change fast enough.”

On February 22, the council, in a rare show of unity on Syria, unanimously adopted a resolution demanding both sides end attacks on civilians, including the use of barrel bombs, and give unhindered access to humanitarian relief operations. The council also called on the parties to end sieges on cities and towns, lift bureaucratic obstacles, and allow aid convoys to cross conflict lines and international borders to reach the 3.5 million needy Syrians in hard-to-reach areas.

Since the resolution’s adoption, limited aid has been delivered to several hard-to-reach areas, but there have been occasions when convoys could not proceed or were prevented from carrying essential items, such as medicines. And of the eight border crossings the U.N. wants to use, the government has only opened one of them to aid convoys in the past month.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is the biggest obstacle to the delivery of aid. “The Assad regime’s murderous appetite for deploying artillery, barrel bombs and air strikes against civilians in Syria - despite this council’s specific call that these types of attacks stop - is the No. 1 factor driving displacement and the broader humanitarian crisis.”

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on his way into the briefing that while the situation is “very difficult,” he believes there has been “some progress in implementing” the council’s resolution.

Non-compliance with the resolution could lead to further steps. But Najib Ghadbian, the Special Representative of Syria’s main opposition coalition in New York, told VOA by phone that it will be difficult to get strong action in the council because of Russia, which has been the Assad regime’s closest ally throughout the conflict.

“We have a case that cries for intervention and we should not allow one country on the Security Council to obstruct the working of this body,” said Ghadbian.

The use of so-called barrel bombs by the government has been condemned by human rights groups as a war crime. Asked by a reporter why his government uses them, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, sarcastically asked if they should replace them with missiles, and then denied the government uses them against civilians.

Ambassador Ja'afari: “We drop weapons against terrorist groups, not against civilians.”
Reporter: “So you don’t deny that you are dropping barrel bombs on civilians?”
Ambassador Ja'afari: “No, but we are using this against terrorist groups coming from Turkey and sponsored by…”
Reporter: “But they are landing on civilians.”
Ambassador Ja'afari: “No, we are not killing civilians. These civilians are our own people.”

He went on to say that such images were propaganda broadcast by Syria’s enemies and blamed civilian deaths on the “dirty petrodollars” coming from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey that are financing the regime’s opponents.

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