UN Orders Syria Humanitarian Aid Access
by VOA News February 22, 2014
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution on Syria's humanitarian crisis, demanding that both sides in the conflict provide immediate access to deliver essential aid to millions of people in desperate need.
The 15-member council united on Syria for the first time Saturday. Russia and China — which have shielded Syria's government throughout the country's three-year-long civil war — voted in favor of the resolution.
Saturday's vote does not threaten sanctions. Russia insisted that this reference be dropped from the original Western- and Arab-backed text. But it does express the council's intent to take 'further steps' in the case of non-compliance.
The resolution demands immediate cross-border aid access and condemns rights abuses by the Syrian government and armed opposition groups.
It also insists that all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians and stop the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas — including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs.
U.N. 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.'
The U.N. chief said it is 'profoundly shocking ... that both sides are besieging civilians as a tactic of war.'
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the newly adopted resolution could be 'a 'hinge-point in the tortured three years' of the crisis. He called it 'a resolution of concrete steps to answer the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.'
Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, said the resolution makes more than 15 'very specific demands.'
These include an end to human rights abuses, arbitrary detention and torture, an end to the militarization of medical facilities, the departure of all foreign fighters from Syria, and implementation of the Geneva I communiqué.
Meanwhile, fighting continued in Syria on Saturday.
Government forces captured two rebel-held areas on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after days of intense fighting near a decades-old cease-fire line between Syria and Israel.
A Syrian television report, citing a military official, said troops and pro-government gunmen known as National Defense Forces captured the areas of Rasm al-Hour and Rasm al-Sad, south of the town of Quneitra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed troops were on the offensive, adding that the air force was taking part in the attack.
The Observatory also said Syrian air raids had hit a rebel-held bastion north of Damascus while clashes raged on the outskirts of the capital.
In neighboring Lebanon, a suicide attacker blew himself up at an army checkpoint, killing two people after soldiers tried to search his car in the eastern town of Hermel, a Shi'ite Hezbollah militia stronghold.
Areas under Hezbollah domination in eastern Lebanon and southern Beirut have suffered a string of violent attacks in recent months, since the group acknowledged it has sent fighters to support President Bashar al-Assad's troops in Syria's war.
At least one of the dead in the suicide attack was a soldier. Until Saturday, the attacks had all killed civilians.
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