Syria conflict: Russians fall into line and back urgent aid for war-torn country

UN Security Council calls on Assad and opposition to allow help for millions 'in desperate need'

The United Nations Security Council came together yesterday behind a resolution calling for both the Assad regime and opposition forces in Syria's civil war to provide immediate access to deliver aid to the millions in desperate need of help.

The fate of the resolution had been in the hands of Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the 15-strong council alongside the UK, the US and France that have veto powers. Russia supports the Syria government, and, with ally China, has blocked a number of previous resolutions over Syria that would have put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to end the conflict.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council immediately after the vote that the resolution "should not have been necessary" because "humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated – it is something to be allowed by virtue of international law".

"Half the country's people need urgent assistance," he said. "Host countries need support in caring for more than 2.5 million refugees."

Mr Ban said it is "profoundly shocking... that both sides are besieging civilians as a tactic of war."

He added: "Some 200,000 people are under siege in government-controlled areas – and 45,000 in opposition-controlled areas."

The resolution, regarding food, medicine and other essentials, did not include the threat of sanctions for non-compliance, a reference to which the Russians insisted be dropped from the original Western and Arab-backed text – but it does express the council's intention to take "further steps" if the resolution is not implemented. The Security Council came together in October last year to approve a weaker presidential statement on the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria, but this latest resolution is a much stronger message to both Assad and the opposition forces.

Mark Lyall Grant, Britain's UN Ambassador, said: "Today, the council has finally shown that, whatever its political differences over Syria, it was not entirely indifferent to the devastating humanitarian crisis."

UN humanitarian chief Baroness Amos said last week that the October motion had not provided what was required and that progress on aid had been "limited, uneven and painfully slow". Following the meeting, Lady Amos issued a statement expressing hope that adoption of the resolution "will facilitate the delivery of aid to people in desperate need in Syria".

She added: "It is also vital that ordinary people, who have been bearing the brunt of the violence, are protected. More than anything, the conflict needs to end so that people can begin to rebuild their lives. Syria is in danger of losing a generation of its children. Children are the future. We must protect them."

The resolution was also welcomed by a collective of 17 different humanitarian organisations, which included Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid and Save the Children . But, in a statement, the group sounded a note of caution, stating that, "This resolution will only be meaningful if it results in real, substantial changes on the ground in Syria." It added that the people of Syria could not afford another disappointment such as the one that followed the October declaration.

There were also reports on Syrian state television yesterday that government forces had captured two rebel-held areas on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Citing a military official, the report said that troops and pro-government gunmen had taken Rasm al-Hour and Rasm al-Sad, south of Quneitra.

Activists say the conflict has so far claimed more than 130,000 lives.

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