May 22, 2014 / 7:34 PM / 4 years ago

U.N. chief demands urgent action on inadequate Syria aid access

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday demanded that the Security Council take urgent action to ensure that millions of Syrians who have been denied emergency relief due to the country’s bloody civil war get access to much-needed humanitarian aid.

Residents queue as they wait to receive food aid distributed by the UNRWA at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus, May 4, 2014. REUTERS/Rame Alsayed

“Despite the clearly expressed will of the council and the best efforts of humanitarian actors, resolution 2139 has yet to make a meaningful difference to the lives of the millions of people in need in Syria,” Ban said in a report to the Security Council.

Three months after the council achieved rare unity in unanimously approving resolution 2139 which demanded rapid, safe and unhindered aid access, Ban said it was time for the 15-member body to “to urgently consider what steps it will now take to secure compliance with its demands.”

Ban’s report reached the Security Council hours after Russia and China vetoed a French-drafted resolution calling for the International Criminal Court to look into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria’s three-year-old civil war, which has killed over 150,000 people.

“Resolution 2139 demands that relevant border crossings be opened,” Ban said. “It demands that sieges be immediately lifted. It demands that schools and hospitals be respected and protected from attack. It demands that medical personnel and supplies be immediately allowed to reach all those in need.”

“I deeply regret to inform the council that all the parties to the conflict are not heeding these demands,” he added.

In his toughly worded report, Ban said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government bore the greater responsibility.

“Parties to the conflict, particularly the government of Syria, continue to deny access for humanitarian assistance in a completely arbitrary and unjustifiable manner,” he said. “I remind the council that intentionally using starvation as a weapon of war is a gross violation of ... humanitarian law.”

Ban’s report, his third on the humanitarian aid situation since the February adoption of resolution 2139, said that some 241,000 people live “under the inhumane and illegal conditions of siege warfare.” For more than 3.5 million others in Syria, aid access is “unpredictable and woefully inadequate,” he said.

The U.N. secretary-general expressed shock at the indiscriminate use of bombs in populated area, where children continue to suffer a large number of casualties.

“Barrel bombs, mortars and car bombs have killed and maimed thousands over the past weeks,” he said, adding that targeting civilians is a war crime.

Ban also expressed concern for the well-being of 2.5 million people in the besieged city of Aleppo due to the intentional disruption of water supplies by opposition groups, including al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and other Islamist militant groups opposed to Assad.

Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan are drafting a new humanitarian resolution calling for “measures” to ensure compliance with resolution 2139, said Australian U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan. Council diplomats have said a draft of the new resolution could reach the council as early as next week.

Senior Western diplomats said they wanted to avoid another veto by Russia, so were not planning to seek blanket authorization for cross-border access - something Assad’s government strongly opposes - or sanctions for individuals violating international humanitarian law.

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by G Crosse

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