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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Chief on Syria: Starvation as Weapon Is War Crime

by Margaret Besheer January 14, 2016

The U.N. Secretary-General has called for an end to sieges on Syrian towns, warning all parties to the conflict that using starvation as a weapon is a war crime.

"All sides – including the Syrian government, which has the primary responsibility to protect Syrians – are committing atrocious acts prohibited under international humanitarian law," Ban Ki-moon said Thursday in a speech to U.N. member states. Ban set out his priorities for 2016, which will be his final year as the world's top diplomat.

"All sides in the Syria conflict are guilty of heightening the suffering of civilians – of committing unconscionable abuses," said Ban. He called for immediate, unconditional and unimpeded access for humanitarians.

Aid to the besieged

On Monday, aid agencies reached three besieged towns for the first time since October. They found starving people in the government-blockaded town of Madaya and in rebel-controlled Foua and Kefraya.

"U.N. teams have witnessed scenes that haunt the soul," the U.N. chief told reporters. "The elderly and children, men and women, who were little more than skin and bones: gaunt, severely malnourished, so weak they could barely walk, and utterly desperate for the slightest morsel."

"There can be no denying their suffering," he added.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that another round of aid deliveries to the three towns appeared to be going smoothly.

"Three Syrian Arab Red Crescent, ICRC and U.N. cars entered at 1500 local time" into Madaya, ICRC Director of Operations Dominik Stillhart told reporters at the United Nations.

He said the convoy is comprised of 44 trucks, carrying mainly wheat flour and some hygienic items to the government-blockaded town. A nutritionist also was accompanying the convoy to better assess the levels of malnutrition. The town of 42,000 received its last aid delivery in mid-October.

Tears of joy

"According to ICRC team that entered Madaya, the people were very happy, even crying, when they realized that wheat flour is on the way," he said.

Stillhart said a convoy of 17 trucks with the same materials was simultaneously heading for the rebel-held towns of Foua and Kefraya. He said eight of the 17 vehicles had already been cleared at checkpoints there.

The aid agencies plan to deliver fuel this Sunday to the three towns.

The U.N. chief warned that civilians must not be left in jeopardy of further suffering if cease-fires break down and sieges resume.

"They too, have a right to assistance, a right to dignity and a right to food," he said.

Stillhart added that the U.N. is working to quickly get medical teams and mobile clinics on the ground in those towns.

Peace talks

In December, the U.N. Security Council – long divided over Syria – agreed to support intra-Syrian talks led by Russia, the United States and the United Nations. The talks are scheduled for January 25 in Geneva.

The secretary-general urged the warring parties to build on that political momentum and not let "regional tensions derail our quest to end this war."

He acknowledged there are "still big differences" of positions between the parties, but he said he hoped they would show their solidarity, flexibility and a sense of compromise.

"We have to first, and most of all, we have to think about the future of the Syrian people," Ban said.

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