UN Chief Demands Access to Battered Syrian District

Demonstrators gather during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Yabroud near Damascus March 2, 2012.
Demonstrators gather during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Yabroud near Damascus March 2, 2012.
Margaret Besheer

The U.N. Secretary-General warned Friday that Syria risks a descent into full civil war and sectarian strife that could plague the country for generations to come.  Ban Ki-moon told the U.N. General Assembly that the international community must act in a unified and urgent manner to end the past year’s bloodshed and suffering.

Two weeks ago the 193-member General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning the widespread human rights abuses in Syria and calling for an immediate end to the violence.

In its resolution, the General Assembly required the U.N. chief to report to them within 15 days on whether their demands had been implemented. The continuing violence in Syria clearly shows they have not, and the Secretary-General reported that the United Nations continues to receive “grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture.”

Ban referred to reports of brutal fighting in the towns of Homs and Hama and said the humanitarian situation has degraded to the point that people are melting snow for drinking water.

“This atrocious assault is all the more appalling for having been waged by the government itself, systematically attacking its own people. All agree we must act in the face of this escalating crisis,” Ban said.

Ban said the Syrian government has failed to deliver on its responsibility to protect its citizens and as a result the death toll has exceeded 7,500 people. He called on the international community to do everything within its power to end the crisis.

“We must help move towards a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system, as supported by this Assembly.  Yet to date, the international community has failed in its duty. In fact, the actions - indeed, the inaction - of the international community seems to have encouraged the Syrian authorities in their brutal suppression of its citizens,” Ban said.

Ban urged an immediate end to the violence and killings and said his humanitarian chief and international aid workers must be allowed in. On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said they had reached the besieged town of Homs, but were not allowed to enter the hard hit Baba Amr district with relief supplies.

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said he respects the U.N. chief very much, but that he was not well informed.  He called Ban’s remarks “aggressive," “virulent” and “slandering” and warned his report would increase tensions, not defuse them.

The envoy said he was not claiming that there are no problems or opposition in Syria, but blamed countries hostile to his government, as well as the foreign media, for targeting Syria. He said most of the country is living “normally” and blamed international sanctions for impeding access to food, fuel, medical supplies and cash.

The new U.N.-Arab League Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, is headed to Cairo and the wider region next week in an effort to mediate a political solution to the nearly year-long crisis.

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