Syria tells U.N.: No one cares more about our people than us

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syria told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that no one cares more about the Syrian people than President Bashar al-Assad’s government after the United Nations accused rival parties in the five-year conflict of war crimes by starving civilians.

Slideshow ( 3 images )

The Security Council met to discuss the besiegement of some 400,000 people in Syria. The United Nations says half are in Islamic State controlled areas, some 180,000 in government areas and about 12,000 in areas controlled by opposition armed groups.

It is the second meeting the council has held on the issue this week after images emerged of starving civilians in the town of Madaya, which is besieged by pro-Syrian government forces. International relief organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it has confirmed 35 deaths from starvation in Madaya.

“The Syrian government is the government that is most mindful of its people,” Syria’s deputy U.N. envoy Mounzer Mounzer told the 15-member council.

“No one can claim to care more about our people than we do, no other country, especially when it comes to providing assistance to areas under the control of armed terrorist groups,” he said.

Aid reached Madaya on Monday for the first time in months and a U.N. official described seeing malnourished residents, some of whom were little more than skeletons and barely moving. The U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF on Friday confirmed cases of severe malnutrition among children in the town.

“The primary responsibility for this suffering lies with the party maintaining a siege,” deputy U.N. aid chief Kyung-Wha Kang told the council. “It is, however, shared by those that conduct military activities in or from populated areas, thereby using civilians as shields and placing them in harm’s way.”

Humanitarian aid was also delivered on Monday to government-held villages of Foua and Kafraya in Idlib province which are besieged by rebel forces.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday that Syria’s warring parties, particularly the government, were committing “atrocious acts” and “unconscionable abuses” against civilians.

The civil war was sparked by a Syrian government crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in early 2011. Islamic State militants have used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq, and some 4.3 million Syrians have fled the country.

The United Nations says at least 250,000 people have been killed, 6.6 million people in Syria have been displaced and 13.5 million need humanitarian assistance.

Kang said “the slow and bureaucratic procedures that have been imposed on humanitarian operations in Syria must be simplified and streamlined.”

However, Mounzer said all measures and precautions needed to be taken to ensure relief workers were safe and that the aid doesn’t fall into the hands of “terrorists.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Andrew Hay