Europe aid chief urges U.N. resolution on Syria relief access
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Europe's aid chief on Wednesday urged the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution to boost humanitarian access in Syria, an issue that has simmered for months in the shadow of plans for peace talks and a deal on destroying Syrian chemical weapons.
While 2 million Syrians have fled the civil war, there are more than 4 million people displaced inside the country and in urgent need of help, but violence and bureaucratic red-tape has slowed aid to a trickle, the United Nations has said.
The 15-member Security Council - long paralyzed on how to deal with the Syrian conflict - has for months been mulling action on aid access. Western members recently decided to pursue a non-binding statement on the issue rather than a resolution to avoid a likely showdown with Russia and China, diplomats said.
"We are not giving up on the Security Council at some point coming up with a binding resolution on humanitarian access. When this will take place we shall see," said EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.
"If there is another form of expressing of support (for aid access) we welcome it but we do hope there will be a Security Council resolution," she told a news conference on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.
U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos last month sent the Security Council a wishlist to boost aid access in Syria that included allowing cross-border delivery, humanitarian pauses in fighting and advance notice of military offensives.
U.N. diplomats have described the Amos list as ambitious and said any support from the council was unlikely to cover cross-border access as Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, would probably object.
"But in practice a lot of the NGOs are operating cross-border anyway (in rebel-held areas) and the biggest problem is in government-held areas at the moment," said a senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The Security Council did reach a rare agreement in April on a non-binding statement on the humanitarian situation in Syria after Amos gave a bleak assessment of the situation. The United Nations now says half of Syria's 20 million people need help.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that he had been "very encouraging" of Security Council members Australia and Luxembourg, who are drafting a new statement on aid access.
Russia, backed by China, has vetoed three Security Council resolutions since October 2011 that would have condemned Assad's government and threatened it with sanctions.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Tuesday that Australia hopes to circulate a draft statement among council members after a resolution is adopted on a resolution to get rid of Syria's chemical weapons.
Envoys from the five permanent council members - United States, Russia, France, China and Britain - have reached a deal on the core of a resolution on Syria's chemical weapons, Western diplomats said on Wednesday, but Russia insisted work was "still going on.
The statement on Syria aid access had "been on hold for the last two, three weeks because the focus has been on chemical weapons, but we need to dig that out of the deep freeze and push forward," the senior U.N. diplomat said.
Georgieva, the EU humanitarian aid commissioner, said that the resolution on Syria's chemical arms could also be used to boost aid access.
"The implementation of any agreement would require that there are inspectors inside Syria. These inspectors would require security and protection ... It is inconceivable that we would not use this to help people more," she said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)