Press Conference on Syria by Emergency Relief Coordinator
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
12 March 2012
The United Nations humanitarian aid chief today expressed extreme alarm over the destruction she witnessed in Syria last week and called on the Syrian Government to allow aid agencies to deliver desperately needed relief supplies to civilians in the worst-hit parts of the strife-torn Arab country.
“In Baba Amr, I was horrified by the destruction I saw,” Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told reporters during a Headquarters news briefing this afternoon as she recounted her trip to the devastated district in Homs. “No building was untouched and there was clear evidence of the use of heavy artillery and tanks.”
As a result, some 50,000 to 60,000 had been displaced, she said, calling for greater transparency of that situation and in the country at large. “We need to know what has happened to them, where they are now and what they need. We also need to know where the wounded are and whether they are receiving treatment.”
Last week, Ms. Amos met with Syria’s Foreign Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister and other Cabinet members, who agreed initially to a joint humanitarian assessment mission, expected to begin later this week, of areas in dire need of humanitarian aid. She also pressed Syrian officials to implement a daily humanitarian pause to let aid in, as proposed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“This is a minimal start. We need much, much more,” she said, calling for a “robust and regular arrangement” which allows humanitarian organizations unhindered access and time to assess humanitarian needs, as well as to immediately and safely deliver supplies and evacuate the wounded.
During her visit, Ms. Amos also met with some of the 12,000 Syrian refugees sheltering in seven camps in Hatay Province, on the Turkish side of border, and held talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to discuss regional contingency plans.
She also held consultations with Lebanese and Jordanian officials and praised their readiness to open their borders to Syrian refugees in distress and provide them with sustained relief.
She said that since her visit, she had heard and seen disturbing new reports of shelling and tank fire, including in Iblin in northern Syria, and reports of civilian casualties.
“The people of Syria need our help. They want peace, security and stability, so they can get on with their lives. We must do everything we can to stop the violence and end the suffering of people caught in the conflict,” she said.
[Kofi Annan, Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian Crisis, met with Syria’s President on 7 March during a visit to the region last week to bring efforts to end the violence through dialogue and a political settlement.]
Asked how the United Nations could deliver humanitarian aid and set up relief corridors in the absence of a Security Council resolution, she said several United Nations organizations were supplying aid to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which was very active on the ground. Her major concern was that its capacity was being stretched, she said, adding that only a few agencies had been given access and only to limited parts of the country.
Setting up safe zones or humanitarian corridors in Syria, as called for by opposition groups, would require a Council resolution to ensure they were policed and secure, she said
As to whether Syrian authorities agreed to allow her to search for injured and missing people, she said: “The Syrian authorities made it clear to me that I could go anywhere that I wished. I was the first person able to get into Baba Amr and was able to take the Syrian Arab Red Crescent with me.” They stopped short, however, of agreeing to a series of comprehensive proposals she made, saying they needed more time to consider them. Ms. Amos was also denied access to meet with displaced people from Babr Amr in opposition-controlled areas of Homs.
Regarding reports that the Syrian Government was shooting at the wounded and at aid workers, she said she did not witness such occurrences, nor did she know who was responsible for the killing last week of one of the relief chiefs of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
Asked if people she met with had been shot at by terrorists or non-Government forces, she said no one had specifically spoken of being attacked by terrorists, but that in one area of Homs she spoke with several men in the street who said they had been made a target of violence by opposition forces.
Asked if she had met with the Free Syrian Army and whether it and other opposition forces should be called upon to pull out of civilian areas, she said she had not met with any opposition groups. She stressed the need for all armed parties to fulfil their obligations under international law. “Civilians must not be targeted, nor should humanitarian workers. We need to make that point very forcefully to whoever is engaged in the conflict in Syria.”
Asked about the Syrian Government’s response to reports of ongoing attacks on civilians, including women and children, she said officials she met with dismissed such reports as propaganda and said that there was no humanitarian crisis in the country.
As to whether ending the humanitarian crisis and delivering aid was contingent upon President Bashar al-Assad’s departure from office, she said relief supplies could be brought in now if the Syrian authorities agreed to it.
“We don’t know what the scale of the humanitarian situation might be and how it may develop in next few days. It is critical to have a better sense of what is going on,” she said. “That’s why pushing for unhindered access is so important.”
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For information media • not an official record
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