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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations' outgoing humanitarian chief on Thursday painted a harrowing portrait of savagery in Syria's civil war, now in its fifth year, and urged the Security Council to take collective action to put an end to the carnage.
The Syrian war has killed more than 220,000 people. Of the country's roughly 23 million people, some 12.2 million are in need of humanitarian aid, including 5 million children.
"For more than four years, we have watched Syria descend into deeper depths of despair surpassing even what the most pessimistic observers thought possible," Valerie Amos said in her final briefing to the U.N. Security Council before handing over the post to her fellow Briton Stephen O'Brien.
"In the past weeks, we have seen more and more heinous acts. Innocent men, women and children killed, maimed, displaced, and subjected to a savagery that no human should have to endure."
She cited an aerial bomb attack on a market in Darkoush late last month which killed between 40 and 50 civilians and referred to reports of Islamic State militants executing dozens of civilians over the past week after capturing Palmyra.
"The use of chlorine continues to be reported, killing, injuring and terrorizing civilians," she said. "Schools and hospitals continue to be attacked."
She urged the council to take action to protect civilians and end the sieges, ensure aid workers have access, and bring war criminals to account. Last month she called for an arms embargo and sanctions on Syria.
Amos said aid workers were unable to access any of the 422,000 people under siege in Syria in April. She accused the government of introducing new rules and regulations, causing unnecessary delays in delivery of urgently needed aid.
"ISIL's (Islamic State) advance brings with it new depths of depravity to Syria with indiscriminate killing and maiming, raping and destroying," she said. "They have forcibly recruited children and made the delivery of humanitarian assistance more and more difficult."
Amos said the warring sides have "ignored practically all aspects" of a February 2014 Security Council resolution authorizing cross-border aid access and requiring parties to the conflict to allow aid workers to help those in need.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari dismissed Amos' criticism of his government, saying the real problem was terrorist groups getting support from the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
U.S., European and other unilateral sanctions were making the humanitarian situation worse, he said, adding that "such unjust measures must end."
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Marguerita Choy