The UN Security Council has reached a rare agreement on Syria, an issue that has divided it for two years, calling for an end to the escalating violence and condemning human rights violations by Syrian government forces and rebels.
“The escalating violence is completely unacceptable and must end immediately,” the council said on Thursday in a non-binding statement it referred to as “Press Elements on Syria”.
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After a discussion on the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria, the 15-nation council also “condemned the widespread violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human rights abuses by armed groups”.
The statement came after the UN humanitarian affairs agency asked the Security Council to approve cross-border relief operations into Syria to deliver aid to millions of suffering civilians.
Valerie Amos made the appeal during a public briefing by the UN agency chiefs for humanitarian affairs, refugees, women in conflict and children in conflict.
The officials used the Security Council platform to appeal to the world for pressure to allow relief for Syria’s civilians who have been wracked by the ongoing violence.
“The situation in Syria is a humanitarian catastrophe with ordinary people paying the price for the failure to end the conflict,” Amos said.
“I do not have an answer for those Syrians I have spoken to who asked me why the world has abandoned them.”
The agency chiefs launched their campaign on Monday with an article in The New York Times that said: “There still seems to be an insufficient sense of urgency among the governments and parties that could put a stop to the cruelty and carnage in Syria.”
The Security Council has been deadlocked for months on the Syrian war, and did not act or make any statement after Thursday’s briefing.
Western and Arab nations blame the conflict on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which has been battling what it calls terrorists in a conflict that began as an uprising but has since turned into a civil war.
Russia, Syria’s ally, has faulted the Syrian rebels for civilians’ suffering, and has cast vetoes, along with China, to block draft council resolutions.
Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch’s UN director, said in a statement: “As if blocking Security Council action to stop the killing was not callous enough, Russia and China also stand in the way of council efforts to press President Assad to open up access to aid”.
Bolopion called for stepped-up cross-border relief shipments “with or without Syria’s consent”.
But Syrian ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, stressed to the council “the exclusive responsibility of the Syrian government in protecting its citizens … in a way that safeguards its sovereignty”.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, warned the council that without an end to the fighting soon, almost half of Syria’s 20.8 million population could be in need of humanitarian help by the end of 2013.
Guterres said 400,000 refugees had fled Syria in the past seven weeks, bringing the population of Syrians registered as refugees or waiting to be registered to 1,367,413.
If current trends continue, he said, then by the end of the year there may be up to 3.5 million Syrian refugees, together with 6.5 million people inside Syria who could become in need of help.
“These figures are terrifying,” Guterres said.