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File photo of residents of the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp wait to leave the camp, on the southern edge of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria.

SANA, AP

UN chief says both sides block aid to Syrians

  • Article by: EDITH M. LEDERER
  • Associated Press
  • March 24, 2014 - 8:01 PM

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blamed the Syrian government and opposition Monday for escalating violence and blocking aid to millions in desperate need of help, despite pledges from both sides to comply with a Security Council resolution demanding immediate access everywhere in the country to deliver aid.

As a result of the intensifying "indiscriminate and disproportionate violence and brutality," 3.5 million people are estimated to be in need of aid in hard to reach areas, an increase of 1 million since the beginning of the year, Ban said.

Overall, more than 9.3 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian aid, including 6.5 million internally displaced, Ban said. The U.N. chief is required to report to the Security Council every 30 days on the implementation of the resolution, which was adopted a month ago.

Despite the worsening security environment, the U.N. World Food Program and its partners provided food to 3.7 million people in February, Ban said. But he added, "the assistance reaching people continues to fall far short of what is required to cover even their basic needs."

The resolution demands that all parties, especially the Syrian government, promptly allow safe access for humanitarian aid across conflict lines and borders, and it calls on both sides to immediately lift sieges of populated areas. It also demands that all parties stop depriving civilians of food, halt attacks against civilians and demands that all foreign fighters withdraw from Syria.

The measure threatened no sanctions but expressed the council's intention to take "further steps" if its demands are not fulfilled.

Since the resolution's adoption, Ban said there has been only limited improvement in the delivery of aid to hard-to-reach areas. There have been no new cease-fires in besieged areas, where about 175,000 people are trapped by government forces and 45,000 by opposition groups.

Although the Syrian government established a working group on implementing the resolution, Ban said "there has been no progress in streamlining and speeding up procedures" to get humanitarian convoys moving. He said the complex process remains time-consuming and requires multiple approvals.

Ban said increased fighting between the opposition Free Syrian Army and the al-Qaida breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has also complicated the delivery of aid and cut key access routes in some northern locations.

The Syrian government recently approved the opening of one border crossing with Turkey to get aid to the Al-Hasakeh governorate, but Ban said it has not approved U.N. requests to open additional crossings with Turkey and Jordan.

"The government restated its position that any border crossing can be opened as long as it is a 'legal' official crossing point and will not compromise the sovereignty of the government of Syria," Ban said.

© 2014 Star Tribune