U.N. aid chief demands Security Council action on Syria aid access

Reuters

* U.N. diplomats: Lavrov dismissed possible aid resolution

* Syria's UN envoy says cooperating on United Nations aid

* Amos says reality in Syria is "grim and gruesome"

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 25 (Reuters) - U.N. aid chief ValerieAmos demanded stronger action by the U.N. Security Council onFriday to get desperately needed aid into Syria, where 2.5million people in need have not received help for almost a year.

Violence and excessive red tape have slowed aid delivery toa trickle in Syria. More than 100,000 people have been killed inthe 2 1/2-year civil war and some 2.1 million have fled. Aftermonths of talks, the 15-member Security Council approved anon-binding statement Oct. 2 urging increased humanitarianaccess.

"This is a race against time. Three weeks have passed sincethe adoption of this council's statement with little change toreport," Amos told the Security Council. "As we deliberate,people continue to die unnecessarily."

"I call upon all members of the council to exert influenceand take the necessary action to stop this brutality andviolence," she said. "Without real and sustained pressure fromthis council on the government of Syria and opposition groups onthe ground, it will be impossible to make progress."

The Security Council adopted the statement on humanitarianaccess less than a week after overcoming a long diplomaticimpasse between Russia and Western countries to pass aresolution to rid Syria of chemical arms.

Senior U.N. diplomats said that Russian Foreign MinisterSergei Lavrov had at the time dismissed the possibility of alegally binding resolution on aid access.

British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said after thebriefing by Amos on Friday: "If the (aid statement) is not beingtaken seriously then obviously it behooves us to look atstronger vehicles, including a resolution."

Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions sinceOctober 2011 that would have condemned the government andthreatened it with sanctions.

'GRIM, GRUESOME REALITY'

Australian U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan said Amos made a"direct and powerful" appeal for the council to find a way toimplement its statement, drafted by Australia and Luxembourg,which urged cross-border deliveries and called for humanitarianfighting pauses in fighting and agreed on aid convoy routes.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that,in council consultations after the briefing by Amos, "nobodyexplicitly suggested a resolution, but I don't think the formatof the document is a problem."

He suggested that the main obstacle was increasingly thedisparate rebel groups fighting to overthrow Assad.

"I'm very pleased that this time more and more members ofthe Security Council said that they are now realizing that theproblem is not only with the government," Churkin said. "Veryoften various armed opposition groups are ignoring norms ofinternational humanitarian law."

U.S. State Department officials on Friday urged Russia touse its influence to convince Assad to allow humanitarianconvoys into besieged communities around Damascus.

The officials disputed a statement by Moscow on Thursdaythat snipers from opposition forces were shooting pregnant women"for fun," saying European medical workers had reported thatgovernment snipers were responsible.

"The regime's refusal to grant humanitarian access to theU.N. and other humanitarian organizations is preventinghumanitarian relief from reaching besieged, opposition-heldareas, which can constitute a violation of internationalhumanitarian law," the officials said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the council statement had also urged the Syriangovernment to help aid operations expand and to removebureaucratic impediments and other obstacles, but so far therehad been no major breakthrough on these issues, Amos said.

She said only 15 international aid groups were allowed tooperate in Syria, it was difficult for humanitarian workers toget visas, and while the number of Syrian organizations approvedto work with the United Nations had increased to 66, the numberallowed to work in the areas with greatest need was limited.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said Damascus hadgiven visas to hundreds of people working for the U.N. Officefor the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"If there are any minimal cases here and there (ofproblems), that wouldn't affect the overall picture of ourcooperation with OCHA," he said.

Amos said kidnappings of humanitarian workers and hijackingsand seizures of aid trucks were also on the rise and that "lastweek we had a convoy that was ready to go, but we could not getenough drivers as they fear for their lives."

"The situation on the ground is increasingly complex anddangerous. Some estimate that there are as many as 2,000 armedopposition groups in Syria. Clashes amongst these groups areincreasingly common and key humanitarian access routes have beencut off by fierce fighting," Amos said.

"Words, despite their ability to shock, cannot really painta picture of the grim and gruesome reality of Syria today," shesaid. "I am extremely disappointed that we have not been able tomake further progress."

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