Aid officials call for swift cross-border access in Syria

BEIRUT Sat Mar 15, 2014 9:00am EDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) - United Nations and independent aid officials called on Saturday for swift agreement to allow supplies from Turkey into northeastern Syria, a move that would mark a small step towards implementing a U.N. demand for cross-border humanitarian access.

More than 9 million people inside Syria are in need of aid - close to half the population still in the country - according to the United Nations, but many of them are separated from the main aid operation center in the capital Damascus.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded last month that Syrian authorities and rebels promptly allow access for humanitarian supplies across front lines and borders so that aid reaches affected areas by the most direct routes.

Aid workers and officials say President Bashar al-Assad's government has proposed letting supplies cross into the Kurdish city of Qamishli through Turkey's Nusaybin border post.

"The Syrian government has agreed to open the crossing there. There are still arrangements being worked out with the Turkish government," said Anthony Lake, executive director of the U.N. children's agency UNICEF.

"All of us have convoys ready to go and we urge that they work out those arrangements as quickly as possible," he told a joint news conference in Beirut alongside the heads of four other aid agencies working on Syria's humanitarian crisis.

They were visiting Lebanon to mark the third anniversary of a conflict which has killed more than 140,000 people, driven 2.5 million to seek refuge abroad and displaced a total of 9 million

- the highest number in any current conflict worldwide.

Syria's offer to allow aid into Qamishli poses a dilemma for Turkey, as it would open the border into an area of Syria largely controlled by fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.

It also fails to provide direct access to the rebel-held areas of northern Syria most devastated by the civil war, which are further to the west in Aleppo and Idlib provinces.

"We will continue to press... for opening up the other cross border points, further to the west, because those are the areas of greater need, as well as the border with Jordan," Lake said.

"We welcome always each piece of progress that can be achieved somewhere, but we will always couple that with expressions of dissatisfaction that we are not making faster progress commensurate with the way the conflict and the suffering has escalated."

Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth said the February 22 United Nations resolution had not curbed Syria's suffering and many sides in the conflict were failing to meet their obligations set out in the U.N. text.

"The situation in Syria is getting worse, not better, and it hasn't got better since the Security Council resolution," he said. "More people have been killed, more people have fled."

"...In terms of on the ground, saving children, we're not even close to getting the impact."

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)