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Security Council

Despite UN Security Council demands, Syria humanitarian plight worse than ever, report says


Dec. 12, 2013: Syrian refugees from the town of Qara gather around a fire to keep themselves warm in a Syrian refugee camp on the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in eastern Bekaa Valley. (Reuters)

Two months after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution urging all sides in the civil war in Syria—including the brutal government of President Bashar al-Assad—to allow humanitarian supplies to reach millions of civilians, the situation is as bad as ever, according to a report that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will present to the council next week.

Amid continued indiscriminate bombings of its own population, the report says, the Assad regime, despite sporadic compliance, is deliberately keeping medical supplies “including life-saving medicines and vaccines” away from hundreds of thousands of suffering people; delaying or withdrawing permission for humanitarian supply conveys to enter the country; creating emergency supply bottlenecks by refusing to open border crossings; and adding hundreds of thousands of new refugees to the 6.5 million Syrians within the country who have been displaced by the conflict.

About 3.5 million of them have “little access to essential goods and services,” the report says, noting in particular that about 242,000 of them besieged by the armed forces of both sides are of “grave concern.”  Of that total,  nearly 200,000 are living in areas under government assault, and 45,000 are besieged by the opposition.

Ban’s report also charges opposition forces, including extremist groups sometimes affiliated with Al-Qaeda, with preventing the transport of humanitarian supplies and other atrocities, including the rocketing of civilian areas, torture, beheadings, kidnapping and sexual violence that are likewise committed by Assad’s regime.

But while a Reuters dispatch Wednesday emphasizes the report’s declaration that “none of the parties to the conflict have adhered to the demands of the Council” in demanding greater access to humanitarian relief, the document makes clear that the bulk of the problem is on the government side, where U.N. agencies sit with the regime in joint relief committee meetings. 

Among other things, the report notes:

--“strong evidence” (from the organization Human Rights Watch) of indiscriminate government bombing in “over 85 major places”  along with numerous armed attacks since Feb 22—the date when the Security Council passed a formal resolution calling on all sides to allow greater access to relief supplies. The fierce bombing  and fighting caused hundreds of thousands to flee, largely to government-controlled areas “which people deem to be safer.”

--huge swaths of the country are out of reach of relief agencies, due to combat conditions or intended blockades.: only 13 percent of 262 areas labelled as besieged, for example, have been able to get relief.

--Government action—or inaction—is a major cause, especially in areas where opposition resistance is intense. The regime-appointed governor of the southern region of Dar’a, for example, an area of heavy conflict, is scored for a “lack of cooperation.”

--the Assad regime’s central bureaucracy has a major role in the blockages, often by approving the passage of aid convoys for besieged areas and then abruptly withdrawing that permission. Among other things, the report notes that 34 trucks full of relief supplies have been waiting at a Turkish border crossing after the Assad regime suddenly withdrew permission for them to pass.

--medical supplies in particular have been targeted by the government. The report notes that medical aid for more than 216,000 people in hard to reach or besieged areas were “either removed from convoys, or the convoys were not allied to proceed.”  (Another convoy with medical supplies for 65,000 people were allowed to proceed.)

--even when life-saving medical goods move, only some of them are allowed, “particularly if the requests included surgical equipment, blood transfusion equipment or perfusions.”  In one area, the only medical supplies allowed through were polio vaccines “and a small number of mineral supplements.” In at least one case, an entire relief convoy failed to move because the government refused to allow medical supplies to be included.

--international aid organizations are still forbidden by the regime  to work with national non-government organizations—a move that might help with non-partisan aid distribution-- and are largely kept from establishing regional sub-offices that might facilitate aid deliveries in hard-to-reach areas.

--opposition forces have also played a role in the humanitarian blockages, either through direct blockading efforts or by carrying out combat operations that have stopped relief efforts.

--foreign fighters “continue to support all sides in the Syrian conflict, including extremist groups, armed opposition groups, and the government.” The report specifically mentions press reports of “interventions” in Syria by Hizbullah, the extremist organization supported by both the Assad regime and Iran in Lebanon. But it also mentions activities by groups affiliated with Al Qaeda, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, an AQ operation in both Syria and Lebanon.

Yet, despite the many forces operating against them, and the huge dangers involved in the aid work,  the report notes that  where they can, U.N. and other relief agencies have nonetheless managed to increase food and other forms of aid deliveries since the Security Council issued its February appeal.

The World Food Program, for example, has gotten aid to about 4.1 million people, vs.  3.7 million in February. Despite the strictures on medical supplies, the World Health Organization and its partners have gotten some forms of assistance to 1.5 million people, including more than 445,000 in hard to reach areas.

The biggest problem, though, is that despite much touted efforts at international mediation, the Syrian crisis is getting worse rather than better.  International negotiations, Ban reports, “have stalled.” New northern battle fronts are opening up, with Al Qaeda-linked forces involved.

 “The security situation is deteriorating and humanitarian access to those most in need is not improving,” Ban sums up. “The Security Council must take action to deal with these flagrant violations of the principles of international law.”


The problem, of course, is that the Security Council, where Russia and China protect the Assad regime with unassailable vetoes, already did take what action it apparently could—by issuing the demand for greater humanitarian access that Ban’s report reveals to be, so far, mostly a failure.

George Russell is editor-at-large of Fox News and can be found on Twitter @GeorgeRussell.

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