UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council called Wednesday for immediate access into Syria to provide desperately needed aid, expressing alarm at the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.
The unanimous statement was a quick follow up to the Security Council's first legally binding action on the 2 ½-year-old Syrian conflict — a resolution that called on Syria to eliminate its chemical weapons.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant called the presidential statement on humanitarian aid "a very welcome, positive step after years of paralysis in the Security Council." A presidential statement is a step below a resolution. Some diplomats consider presidential statements legally binding but others do not.
The statement, aims at helping the nearly 7 million Syrians affected by the fighting, urges the Syrian government to facilitate "safe and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries."
The statement urges the Syrian government to facilitate "safe and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries."
Without urgent increased humanitarian action, the council warned, the lives of several million Syrians "will be at risk."
The statement condemns all violence in Syria and increased terrorist attacks by organizations and individuals linked to al-Qaida as well as "the widespread violations of human rights." It stresses the obligation under international law to distinguish between civilians and combatants and the prohibition against "indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks" against civilians and the prohibition against using chemical weapons.
Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan, who drafted the statement with Luxembourg envoy Sylvie Lucas, said they decided to move rapidly to address the humanitarian crisis after Friday's adoption of the chemical weapons resolution.
Quinlan praised the council's "strong, unified ... unanimous message to all parties in Syria."
Lucas said the humanitarian situation is dire: over 2 million refugees, almost 5 million Syrians displaced within the country, one-third of Syria's housing destroyed, and 6,000 new refugees every day.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos praised the council for addressing "the horrifying humanitarian situation in Syria."
"As the number of those dying, displaced and fleeing the country continues to rise, we need the whole international community to come together to work to bring an end to this crisis," she said.
Amos said aid is urgently needed for to two million people in areas that humanitarian agencies have been unable to reach for many months. She also called for a halt to the targeting of civilians and vital services including schools, shops and hospitals.
Amos said "getting to a point where the Security Council has been able to reach consensus on humanitarian issues with respect to Syria is a very strong and important step."
"Our task now is to turn these strong words into meaningful action for the children, women and men who are the victims of the continued brutality and violence," she added. "