UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations secretary-general said the world body is poised to help get long-awaited humanitarian aid across borders into Syria even at crossings outside government control, in defiance of Damascus’ insistence that all aid go through its authorities.
Ban Ki-Moon’s new report released Thursday points to a possible path ahead after months of frustration over the inability to get basic necessities to millions of Syrians trapped in the three-year conflict.
The report says access to humanitarian aid remains “unpredictable and woefully inadequate” and that the government of President Bashar Assad has “failed” to care for its people, and it indicates that the U.N. will move ahead on aid delivery regardless of government consent.
“We are ready to put in place arrangements at key border and line crossings to facilitate, improve and monitor access,” the report says, including at crossings “currently outside the government’s effective control.”
Ban said about 9.3 million people — more than 6.5 million displaced by the fighting — are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance within Syria, and access to both government and opposition areas has “dropped significantly” in the last month alone. He warned in his report that “the next two weeks are critical” in determining whether progress can be made in widening aid access.
The U.N. Security Council has been pressured to back up a resolution passed earlier this year demanding access by all sides in the conflict for delivering humanitarian aid. Diplomats and U.N. officials have said the situation on the ground has worsened since then.
Ban called on the council Thursday to “urgently” consider its next steps. That has been difficult, as Syria’s closest ally, Russia, is likely to veto any council resolution under the section of the U.N. Charter that authorizes action without a government’s consent.
Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan told reporters Thursday that his country, Luxembourg and Jordan will bring a new resolution to the council “very soon,” though he didn’t give details.
“We agree totally with the secretary-general. It is time for action,” Quinlan said.
The secretary-general repeated Thursday that parties to the conflict, “particularly the government of Syria, continue to deny access for humanitarian assistance in a completely arbitrary and unjustifiable manner.”
Ban added, “Arbitrarily withholding consent for the opening of all relevant border crossings is a violation of international humanitarian law, and an act of non-compliance with resolution 2139.”
The report said that Syria points to its long-standing policy to deny the use of border crossings outside its control.
A map of Syria’s border crossings distributed last month by the U.N. shows 34 crossings from Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, with just five marked “open” and five marked “problematic,” with the others marked “closed.”
Last month, 35 international lawyers, including a former U.N legal counsel, accused the United Nations of an “overly cautious interpretation of humanitarian law, which has held U.N. agencies back from delivering humanitarian aid across borders” into Syria. The lawyers declared that the U.N. faces “no legal barrier” to delivering humanitarian aid across borders and to supporting other aid groups in similar efforts.
Ban’s new report indicates the new approach, saying, “The U.N. will do all it can to facilitate and enable the provision of assistance by humanitarian organizations across borders in accordance with resolution 2139.”
There was no immediate response to an email and call to Syria’s mission to the U.N.
Ban’s overall assessment of the war’s toll on the Syrian people remained bleak. “Disrespect for human life and dignity remains a defining feature of the Syrian conflict,” and “appalling patterns” of human rights abuses continue,” it said. More than 160,000 people have been killed since the crisis began, activists have said.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.
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