March 22, 2012 / 11:24 PM / 7 years ago

Aid workers have "limited" access in Syria: U.N.'s Amos

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos complained on Thursday that aid agencies have “limited access” to needy people inside conflict-torn Syria, despite the Security Council’s demand that relief workers be allowed into besieged Syrian towns.

“The situation in Syria continues to worsen with fighting and violence ongoing in cities around the country, including in Damascus,” Amos said in a statement.

“I remain extremely concerned for the people who are caught up in this,” she said. “Those who are displaced need food, shelter and medical help. I continue to press for unhindered access for humanitarian organizations.”

More than 40 people died in clashes across Syria on Thursday, opposition activists said, making clear that the U.N. Security Council’s call on Wednesday for an immediate end to the fighting fell on deaf ears.

“We are currently able to carry out only limited food, health, and hygiene support activities inside Syria due to insecurity and limited humanitarian access,” Amos said.

Wednesday’s council statement threatens Syria with “further steps” if it failed to comply with U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace proposal, which calls for a cease-fire, political dialogue between the government and opposition, and full access for aid agencies.

Experts from Amos’ office were recently allowed to participate in a Syrian government-led mission to assess the humanitarian situation in several Syrian cities that have been the focus of heavy fighting, including Homs and Hama.

The council statement also supported the idea of a daily two-hour “humanitarian pause” in the fighting to allow aid workers access to flash points.

A senior Western diplomat on the Security Council said privately that Annan wants the International Committee of the Red Cross to coordinate the pauses.


Separately, the U.N. Security Council held an informal meeting on Thursday with members of a commission established by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate possible crimes committed during the Syrian government’s year-long assault on protesters demonstrating against President Bashar al-Assad.

The government’s attempt to crush the anti-Assad opposition has killed well over 8,000 civilians, according to U.N. figures.

In February the commission gave the United Nations a confidential list of top Syrian officials suspected of ordering crimes against humanity - including murder, abductions and torture - for possible future prosecution.

Assad’s government has refused to cooperate with the commission. German U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said after Thursday’s meeting with the commission that the council should consider setting up its own international investigation.

“In the absence of full access and cooperation by the Syrian government ... the Security Council should itself mandate an international commission of inquiry,” he said. “It is up to the council to ensure that its call for accountability will be met.”

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay has encouraged the Security Council to refer Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, as it did last year in the case of Libya.

But the 15-nation council has struggled to overcome its divisions on Syria. Russia and China, however, have twice vetoed council resolutions condemning the assault on Syrian protesters.

While the Russian and Chinese support for Wednesday’s council statement was a major diplomatic setback for Assad, who has relied on Syria’s ally Russia to block Security Council criticism of his government, U.N. envoys say there are no signs Moscow or Beijing would be willing to support an ICC referral.

Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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