BEIRUT

Middle East

Russia urged to back Olympic truce for humanitarian access

A man walks along a street lined with damaged buildings in the besieged area of Homs February 5, 2014. (REUTERS/Yazan Homsy)

BEIRUT: As the Winter Olympics opens, dozens of former diplomats, business leaders and activists are calling on Russia to support a U.N. Security Council Resolution allowing humanitarian access across Syria.

Despite partial truces in certain districts, including the besieged Damascus areas of Yarmouk, Barzeh and Moadamieh, and the Old City of Homs, some 300,000 people still face extreme deprivation across Syria, and a total of 9.3 million are in need of humanitarian aid within the country.

In an open letter published Friday in the Financial Times and the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, to coincide with the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the authors, including former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Richard Branson, write that “if the Olympic Games showcases the best of humanity, Syria showcases the worst. The most expensive Games in history will take place so close to the worst humanitarian crisis of our times.”

“As President Putin welcomes the world to Sochi, he has a moment in which to prove that the world’s most ambitious Olympics will be used as a moment to secure a political legacy of which the Russian people and the rest of the world can be truly proud,” the letter adds.

Jamal Suleiman, a Syrian actor who left his country a year after a fierce crackdown by security forces turned civil protests into a civil war and having been accused of siding with the opposition, is another of the signatories of the letter, “Give the world a real Olympic Opening: Open Syria to life-saving aid.” Now living in Egypt, Suleiman still has family in Damascus.

“Hundreds of thousands of women and children and elderly people face death, whether through missiles or hunger,” he said.

“These people must be brought out from this war, they shouldn’t be a victim to a conflict so vicious,” Suleiman added.

At least 110,000 people have died in the nearly three years of conflict, and 9 million have been forced to leave their homes. Of those that remain, particularly in besieged areas, hunger and malnutrition are rife.

“We have to raise public awareness toward these issues, because I still think that lots of Russians and Europeans don’t have a profound understanding of the exact conditions in which people are living,” Suleiman said.

Russia, which is one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s key backers, Thursday called for an Olympic truce. However, Moscow’s U.N. envoy said Wednesday that it was “too early” for a humanitarian resolution. “We believe it is not a good time to have any resolution discussed in the Security Council. ... My concern is if there is a resolution, it will be an effort to politicize,” Vitaly Churkin said.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has also called for a truce during the Olympics, saying Thursday that it would allow for the delivery of “life-saving humanitarian aid to suffering people.”

Ahead of the second round of Geneva II talks in late January, the U.K. proposed a statement calling for “immediate and unfettered access for aid” across Syria, but it was blocked by Russia.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 08, 2014, on page 10.

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