Last updated: 24 March, 2014

UN says Syria aid access still extremely challenging

UN chief Ban Ki-moon reported Monday that humanitarian access to Syrians remains “extremely challenging” a month after the world body demanded a lifting of sieges and bombardments of residential areas.

Ban called on the government and the opposition to take measures to ease the delivery of relief supplies, notably medicine, to 9.3 million Syrians in need.

“One month after the passing of Security Council resolution 2139, humanitarian access in Syria remains extremely challenging for humanitarian organizations,” Ban said.

“Delivering lifesaving items, in particular medicines, remains difficult. And the assistance reaching people continues to fall far short of what is required to cover even their basic needs,” he said.

Ban was referring to a UN Security Council resolution passed unanimously February 22 that called for the lifting of sieges and an end to bombardments of residential areas with barrel bombs.

The resolution, which Russia supported after negotiations, provides no sanctions against those who fail to respect it.

While it leaves open the door to sanctions against violators at some later point, based on Ban’s report, that would require another decision by the Security Council.

Diplomats expect Russia would block any sanctions against the Syrian regime, as it has done three times since the start of the Syrian crisis in March 2011.

“Most demands are not being met, but I do not expect any major decision on the next step at this time,” said one diplomat. “There is not a lot of appetite for that after 30 days, and Russia will block it anyway.”

The report estimated that 3.5 million people were trapped in areas under siege or difficult to reach because of fighting, a million more than at the start of the year.

Ban condemned “the continued heavy shelling, including the use of barrel bombs by the Syrian government forces in residential neighborhoods, as well as the terror acts in Syria by extremist groups who are attempting to impose radical ideologies in some parts of the country.”

He also said he was deeply concerned about the use of foreign fighters and the shipment of arms and fighters into the country from outside.

He appealed to states and other actors in the Syrian civil war to end their support for the violence, and to use their influence to promote a political solution the conflict, now in its fourth year.

Local ceasefires have been negotiated here and there, he said, but they are handicapped by the absence of neutral third parties to supervise them and by the mistrust on all sides.

According to the report, 220,000 people are living under siege in Homs, Nubl and Zhara and in several localities on the outskirts of Damascus. Most, about 175,000, are under siege from the Syrian military, and the remainder by opposition forces.

The United Nations has identified 258 “priority zones” where improved humanitarian access would have an especially positive impact.

But no new ceasefires have taken effect in the month since February 22, and there has been only limited access to the more difficult to reach areas.

In a rare instance of progress, a UN convoy authorized by the Syrian government crossed the border from Turkey on March 21 in the direction of Qamishli, for the first time since the start of the war.