News / Middle East

UN Official Warns Syrian Fighting Could Ignite Mideast

A Lebanese army soldier stands atop of an armored personnel carrier (APC) patrolling the area near a mosque complex where hardline Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir was believed to be sheltering with his supporters, in Abra near Sidon, southern Lebanon,
A Lebanese army soldier stands atop of an armored personnel carrier (APC) patrolling the area near a mosque complex where hardline Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir was believed to be sheltering with his supporters, in Abra near Sidon, southern Lebanon,
Larry Freund
A senior United Nations humanitarian official is warning the fighting in Syria endangers the entire Middle East.  

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres is urging the U.N. Security Council and the international community to take steps to mitigate the risk of an explosion that could engulf the entire Middle East.

"The danger that the Syrian conflict could ignite the whole region is not an empty warning," he said. "Measures must be taken now to mitigate the enormous risks of spillover and to support the stability of Syria’s neighbors so as to keep the situation from escalating into a political and security and humanitarian crisis that would move far beyond the international capacity to respond.”

Speaking to the Security Council from his office in Geneva, Guterres urged Syria’s neighboring countries to keep their borders open to refugees, but he also said the impact of the refugee crisis on the neighboring countries is crushing.

U.N. Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos described the situation in Syria as a regional crisis, not a crisis in Syria with regional consequences. She said humanitarian assistance provided inside Syria is insufficient.

“While humanitarian staff work tirelessly to assist affected Syrians, gaps in the response remain considerable," said Amos. "While we know where those considered most vulnerable are located, humanitarian organizations are still not able to get regular, consistent and unimpeded access to millions of affected people”

After closed-door Security Council talks, council president Rosemary DiCarlo of the United States told reporters the 15 members were united on the need for access throughout Syria for humanitarian workers. Speaking in her capacity as the U.S. representative, DiCarlo said that despite laudable efforts by U.N. agencies that are operating under very difficult conditions in Syria, many Syrians remain cut off from humanitarian assistance.

“We urge continued international pressure on the regime for the regime to meet its obligations to allow assistance to be delivered across Syria’s borders, said DiCarlo. "We also ask that the international community insist that the regime reduce the bureaucratic hurdles to the provision of cross-line assistance. And of course we are asking all parties to the conflict to allow unhindered humanitarian access to those in need.”

The U.S. ambassador said she thinks there is a commitment by Security Council members to find a way forward on the Syrian fighting. But she added that during the council’s private talks, there was a lot of frustration that the council has not been able to speak with one voice on Syria, even on humanitarian issues.

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