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Middle East

U.K. censures regime for denying aid access

  • A view shows buildings damaged by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at the Armenian Christian town of Kasab March 27, 2014. (REUTERS/Stringer)

NEW YORK: President Bashar Assad’s government bears overwhelming responsibility for an arbitrary and unjustified refusal to allow aid convoys access to 3.5 million Syrians in hard-to-reach areas, Britain said Friday.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the Security Council that decisions were “often arbitrary and unjustified” and that Syrian soldiers removed medical supplies from humanitarian convoys at checkpoints, British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said.

“The Syrian government is front and center in bearing the overwhelming responsibility,” Grant told reporters after Amos briefed the Council behind closed doors.

“What we are seeing is a pattern of arbitrary denial of access in violation of international humanitarian law and despite the Council’s demands,” he said.

In February, the Security Council urged all parties in the Syrian conflict to allow aid to cross battle lines and borders to reach civilians.

Regime barrel bombings continue unabated, killing more than 200 each day and leaving a devastating impact on other civilians, Grant said.

Of 220,000 Syrians living under siege, 80 percent remain besieged by the Syrian government, and only 14,000 have been reached in the last month, the ambassador added.

There are 3.5 million people in difficult-to-reach areas with no access to essential aid, hampered by regime obstacles, he said, adding that the figure had increased by one million since Jan. 1.

Since February, the Syrian government has allowed aid in through only one regime-held border crossing with Turkey in the northeast of the country.

“We need a blanket approval, a systemic, systematic change of approach by Damascus,” Grant said.

Human Rights Watch also said the Syrian government was obstructing aid.

“It’s an outrage that Syria insists that people within walking distance of the Turkish border can’t get assistance by the closest and safest route,” Nadim Houry, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement.

Aid groups would only need to make a 12-18 mile trek to reach places where Syrians desperately need assistance if they had government permission, Houry said. He said the government’s refusal underscored a Syrian government policy “of punishing civilians in opposition-held areas.”

The United Nations Security Council would now consider how to force compliance with its resolution, Grant said.

“The majority of the responsibility lies with the regime, so now it is important that the Council does consider what steps it can take in the event of non-compliance,” the British ambassador said.

There was no immediate comment from Syrian officials.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 29, 2014, on page 10.
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Summary

President Bashar Assad's government bears overwhelming responsibility for an arbitrary and unjustified refusal to allow aid convoys access to 3.5 million Syrians in hard-to-reach areas, Britain said Friday.

Of 220,000 Syrians living under siege, 80 percent remain besieged by the Syrian government, and only 14,000 have been reached in the last month, the ambassador added.

Since February, the Syrian government has allowed aid in through only one regime-held border crossing with Turkey in the northeast of the country.

Human Rights Watch also said the Syrian government was obstructing aid.


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