U.N. aid chief urges Security Council to act on Syria aid crisis
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. aid chief appealed to the Security Council on Thursday to take action on the "inhuman" obstruction of humanitarian relief in Syria, as Russia and Western nations appeared at an impasse in talks on a draft resolution intended to boost access.
Four months after the 15-member council adopted a resolution demanding rapid and unhindered humanitarian access, Valerie Amos, U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian relief, said there were 10.8 million people in need of help, 1.5 million more than six months ago.
"Arbitrary restrictions and obstructions, including bureaucratic procedures imposed by the government, limit or obstruct where we deliver aid, to whom and how often," she said. "Some opposition groups have also attacked, threatened and refused to cooperate with humanitarian workers."
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari described the U.N. estimate of the number of people in need as "exaggerated."
"My government is committed to its responsibilities in alleviating the humanitarian burden of our people. We are ready to take any measures to achieve that so long as they are in accordance with our national laws and sovereignty," he said.
But aid workers were frustrated at spending endless hours negotiating with Syrian authorities, who were also blocking shipment of medical supplies into rebel-held areas, Amos said.
"The focus of the government of Syria remains on controlling the work of the U.N. and its partners. Our focus remains on the people who so desperately need our help," she said. "This level of obstruction is inhuman."
Veto-wielding council members - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - have been negotiating a possible resolution drafted by Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan that aims to open four border crossings from Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.
Russia said last week the Syrian government agreed to open the four crossings named in the draft, but Australian U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan said that plan was "not good enough."
"The Syrian government want to impose a whole range of highly restrictive conditions on the operation which will take us backwards," Quinlan said on Thursday.
Luxembourg U.N. Ambassador Sylvie Lucas said some 85 percent of aid is delivered to government areas, adding there were still "quite a few sticking points" in negotiations on the draft.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the Syrian government had agreed to reduce red tape delaying aid convoys.
He said unarmed monitors would also be placed at border crossings to inspect aid convoys entering Syria.
But Russia and its Western counterparts disagree on whether the resolution should be enforceable with coercive measures such as sanctions under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter - the February resolution was not.
Russia says it would veto a Chapter 7 resolution allowing cross-border aid delivery without Syrian government consent.
In a letter to the Security Council last week Syria warned that delivering aid across its borders into rebel-held areas without its consent would amount to an attack, suggesting it would have the right to retaliate against convoys.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)