UN accuses Syria of impeding aid deliveries

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. humanitarian chief accused the Syrian government Thursday of imposing "arbitrary restrictions and obstructions" on the delivery of aid and banning life-saving medical supplies from shipments to opposition-held areas.

Valerie Amos told the U.N. Security Council that "some opposition groups have also attacked, threatened and refused to cooperate with humanitarian workers."

In a grim assessment, she said, "Violence and attacks on civilians by all parties to the conflict and human rights abuses continue unabated, with devastating consequences for those affected."

Amos said the number of Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from one million in 2011 to 10.8 million, jumping 1.5 million in just the last six months. That includes 4.7 million in hard-to-reach areas.

"Four years into this war, we are unable to sustainably reach nearly half of those identified as being in the direst need," Amos said.

She strongly criticized new procedures instituted by the Syrian government for sealing trucks carrying aid, new procedures for the delivery of assistance to hard-to-reach areas and additional requirements involving distribution and loading. This meant one million people didn't get food in May and only 50 percent of the planned food aid was dispatched in June, she said.

"I cannot describe to the council the frustration felt by experienced aid workers who have to spend endless hours trying to get agreement for aid deliveries as people's lives hang in the balance," Amos said. "The focus of the government of Syria remains on controlling the work of the U.N. and its partners. Our focus remains on the people who so desperately need our help."

She urged the Security Council to facilitate cross-border delivery of aid using "neutral monitors" through several border crossings in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq which could reach approximately 1.3 million people.

The council approved a resolution in February demanding that all sides in the Syrian conflict allow immediate access for aid, and key members have been negotiating a new humanitarian resolution.

Australia's U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan said he expects a draft resolution to be circulated to all 15 council members "very quickly," but whether it is acceptable to Russia, Syria's closest ally, remains to be seen.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has proposed a method for cross-border access. But Quinlan said "it will not work because the Syrian government wants to impose a whole range of highly restrictive conditions on the operation, which will take us backwards."

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari denounced Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's monthly report on Syria's humanitarian situation, saying it contained "grave falsehoods and gaps." He said the number of needy Syrians was "exaggerated" and "inaccurate" but provided no figures.

Ja'afari blamed the humanitarian situation on "the emergence and escalation of terrorism in Syria" and said Ban's report should have blamed "the states supporting terrorism in Syria, including Israel, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia." He said the government is committed to take measures to alleviate "the humanitarian burden of our people," as long as they comply with national laws and Syria's sovereignty.

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