The UN Security Council has urged the Syrian government to allow cross-border aid deliveries, calling on all parties to Syria’s conflict to agree on humanitarian pauses in fighting and key routes for aid convoys.
More than 2 million Syrians, mostly women and children, have fled during the 30-months conflict, which the UN says has killed more than 110,000 people.
Millions more inside Syria are in desperate need of help, but aid has slowed very much because of violence and excessive red tape.
The 15-member Security Council on Wednesday agreed to a non-binding statement in a bid to boost aid access, drafted by Australia and Luxembourg.
The statement urged the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s authorities to “take immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations, and lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles”.
This includes “promptly facilitating safe and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need, through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighbouring countries”.
Only 12 international aid groups had been approved by the Syrian government to work in the country and convoys of aid trucks struggle to meet demand, delayed by having to negotiate dozens of government and opposition checkpoints, UN officials say.
The agreed statement also urges all parties to “immediately demilitarise medical facilities, schools and water stations, refrain from targeting civilian objects, and agree on the modalities to implement humanitarian pauses, as well as key routes to enable promptly … the safe and unhindered passage of humanitarian convoys.”
The council has for months been discussing how to respond to the Syrian aid crisis.
Western members recently decided to pursue a statement on the issue rather than a resolution to avoid a likely showdown with Russia and China.
Russia, a close ally of Assad, and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions since October 2011 that would have condemned Assad’s government and threatened it with sanctions.
Some diplomats had said that Russia would be wary of backing a call for cross-border aid access because the Assad’s government is opposed to such a move over concerns that weapons could be smuggled more easily to opposition forces.
But another senior UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Moscow agreed to the statement because it simply “urges” the Syrian government to allow aid deliveries across borders from neighbouring countries rather than “demands.”
Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from New York, said that while the statement was not legally binding, it did put a moral obligations on both sides to facilitate aid entry.
“The burden of implementation lies mainly with the Syrian government,” she said.
The latest statement comes after the Security Council overcame a long diplomatic deadlock on Friday between Russia and Western powers to pass a resolution to rid Syria of chemical weapons.
A chemical weapons disarmament team arrived in Damascus on Tuesday to begin evaluating the country’s arsenal of the banned weapons.
The team of 19 inspectors will begin a complex mission of locating and dismantling an estimated 1,000-tonne chemical arsenal as the civil war rages in Syria.