UN Security Council ramps up pressure on Assad
By Andre Viollaz, AFP Monday, February 24, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Saturday calling for humanitarian aid convoys to be allowed access across war-torn Syria, but diplomats immediately voiced doubt about its effectiveness.
Syria's staunch ally Russia, with support from China, had blocked three previous resolutions aimed at pressuring the Damascus regime since the crisis began in March 2011, with an estimated half of all Syrians urgently awaiting immediate help.
But Moscow and Beijing, two of the five permanent Security Council members, did not do so this time, sending a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose administration is accused of serious rights violations in attempting to cling on to power from rebels.
It will not, however, trigger automatic sanctions against Syria if it fails to comply.
The resolution, which also criticizes the dropping of barrel bombs by government aircraft, was drafted by Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg and had the backing of Britain, France and the United States, the other permanent Security Council members.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the move, but said the resolution "should not have been necessary."
"Humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated; it is something to be allowed by virtue of international law," he said.
"Profoundly shocking to me is that both sides are besieging civilians as a tactic of war."
"Some 200,000 people are under siege in government-controlled areas — and 45,000 in opposition-controlled areas," he added.
The text of the resolution, which was the subject of fierce negotiations between Moscow and the West and condemns terror attacks in Syria, calls for "all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas ... and other locations."
It "demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for U.N. humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders, in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need through the most direct routes."
Ban added: "If this resolution is implemented quickly and in good faith, at least some of the suffering can be eased."
The humanitarian situation in Syria, where more than 140,000 people have been killed in the nearly three-year war and millions more forced to flee their homes, "continues to deteriorate," he said.
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