Envoy: U.N. appeal for Syria humanitarian access made little difference

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The U.N. humanitarian chief bluntly told the Security Council on Friday that its recent appeal for humanitarian access in Syria has made little difference and implored the world body to exert more pressure on the warring parties to allow the delivery of aid to millions of people trapped in the conflict.

The message from Valerie Amos further laid bare how ineffective the Security Council has been in addressing Syria’s 2 ½-year-old civil war amid divisions between the United States and other Western powers, which support some of the rebel groups, and Russia, which backs the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Diplomats had characterized the humanitarian appeal three weeks ago as a hopeful step toward overcoming the paralysis. It came immediately after the council’s first binding resolution on Syria that ordered the elimination of its chemical weapons.

Unlike the weapons resolution, which threatened consequences for noncompliance, the humanitarian statement was nonbinding. Amos said the Syrian regime and rebel groups have largely ignored it.

“As we deliberate, people continue to die unnecessarily,” said Amos, the undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs. “I call upon the members of the council to exert influence and take the necessary action to stop this brutality and violence.”

She said the U.N. has not been able to reach 2.5 million people trapped in besieged areas, many of whom have been isolated for more than a year. But neither the Syrian government nor rebel groups have taken significant steps to expand access to key humanitarian routes, Amos said.

She warned that the catastrophic situation will worsen as winter descends on millions living makeshift shelters. Already, diseases are spreading because of lack of access to basic hygiene and vaccinations, including reports of the first outbreak of polio in Syria in 14 years.

The U.S. and British ambassadors said they were horrified by Amos’ presentation and that council members should urgently consider further action.

Amos told Security Council members privately that Syrian officials have been reminding U.N. officials that the council’s statement is not binding, said U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power. Power said that, according to Amos, Syrian officials have “done nothing to lift senseless bureaucratic hurdles that hinder delivery” of aid.

“This is simply appalling,” Power said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Council members with influence on the parties, particularly the regime, must do more to make a difference on the ground.”

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said that if the council’s statement “is not being taken seriously, than obviously it behooves us to look at stronger vehicles, including a resolution.”

Amos said 100 visas for U.N. staff and other workers are still pending, and humanitarian convoys and missions continue to require written approval.

“There is simply no reason why humanitarian staff, whose only interest is to help those in desperate need, have not been granted visas to scale up our operations,” Amos said.

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari insisted his government is “extending the maximum support” to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and he accused Amos of giving a biased assessment of the situation. He said his government has extended visas to “hundreds of people” working for the U.N. agency.

“We are issuing too many visas to too many people. We are a sovereign nation and we have own reasons sometimes to deny visas,” Ja’afari told reporters.

Amos said key humanitarian routes are increasingly cut off by the fighting, and kidnappings of aid workers are rising. One humanitarian convoy was ready to go last week, but the U.N. couldn’t find enough drivers because they feared for their lives.

Amos also said both Syrian government forces and rebel groups - now estimated to number up to 2,000 - have ignored the Security Council’s call to protect civilians and continue to establish military positions in populated areas. Every day, she said, both sides indiscriminately attack schools, hospitals and power plants and even medical personnel.

In her Security Council briefing, Amos said that the U.N. appeal for humanitarian funding is only 54 percent funded. She said that a plan to help Syrians cope with the winter requires $1.8 million to meet the most urgent needs and that funding must be received soon or it will be too late to procure and deliver supplies.

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