UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday authorizing cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to Syrians in rebel-held areas in desperate need of food and medicine, without government approval.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said several weeks ago that opening these routes could help 1.3 million Syrians -- and her office said Monday that if security allows, aid could reach 2.9 million people.
The resolution, a rare agreement on Syria among the often divided council, expresses "grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria." It deplores the fact that the council's previous demands for humanitarian access "have not been heeded" by the government and opposition fighters.
The United States and many European council members said the resolution would not have been necessary if the Syrian government, especially, had complied with a February resolution demanding that all sides allow immediate access for aid.
Since February, however, President Bashar Assad has continued to bar cross-border deliveries to rebel areas and insist that all shipments go through the capital Damascus, which has meant the overwhelming majority of aid has gone to government-controlled areas.
Monthly reports to the council since February by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the resolution's implementation have described an increasingly dire situation.
Amos told the council on June 26 that 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, and over 240,000 trapped in besieged areas.
Australia's U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan, who co-sponsored the resolution with Jordan and Luxembourg, called the situation in Syria "the greatest humanitarian crisis this century," adding that only 1 percent of people in besieged areas and only 12 percent in hard-to-reach areas are currently getting aid.
He said the resolution adopted Monday takes "practical steps" to overcome the Syrian government's opposition.
The Security Council authorized U.N. agencies and aid organizations that assist them to deliver humanitarian assistance across conflict lines between government and rebel forces and through four border crossings -- two in Turkey, one in Iraq and one in Jordan without government approval. It authorized the United Nations to monitor the loading of all aid shipments in the three countries before they cross the Syrian border.
The U.N.'s most powerful body has never been able to adopt a legally binding resolution demanding an end to the Syrian conflict, now in its fourth year with over 150,000 people killed, because of insurmountable differences between Russia and China, key allies of Assad, and the United States and its European allies, who have backed the opposition. It did overcome difference to adopt resolution last September ordering the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons and February's humanitarian resolution.
Monday's vote culminated weeks of negotiations between the two sides. The sponsors initially wanted the resolution to be under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can be enforced militarily, but early on the Russians and Chinese objected.
Instead, the resolution underscores that all 193 U.N. member states are obligated under Article 25 of the Charter "to accept and carry out the council's decisions," and it affirms that the council "will take further measures in the event of non-compliance with this resolution" or the one adopted in February.
Secretary-General Ban welcomed the adoption and called on the government, opposition forces, and all those with influence over them to ensure "unconditional humanitarian access to all people in need without discrimination, using all available routes," lifting of the illegal sieges, an end to violations of international humanitarian law, and the safety of humanitarian workers, his spokesman said.
"It's a good, strong resolution and it should make a significant difference on the ground," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said a Security Council resolution should never be required "for a government to allow food and medicine to reach millions of families whose lives have been hanging in the balance" but the Assad government "seized every opportunity to make it more and not less difficult to provide such crucial assistance."
"Today, we are taking steps to ensure that our resolution from February has a real impact on the ground, unlocking the impediments that stand in the way of cross-border assistance," Power said. "The effectiveness of today's resolution will depend on the efforts and the cooperation of many parties, including the United Nations and humanitarian agencies."
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin underscored that there are no automatic sanctions in the draft.
"The humanitarian problem can only be resolved through a diplomatic solution," Churkin said.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told the council that "ending terrorism is a prerequisite for ending the suffering of the Syrians."
He said other factors standing in the way of improving the humanitarian situation include the systematic targeting and robbing of humanitarian convoys by "terrorist groups" -- the government's name for all opposition fighters -- as well as the killing and detention of humanitarian workers from the Syrian Red Crescent and a lack of funding.
The resolution authorizes the delivery and monitoring of aid to Syria through the Turkish border crossings at Bab al-Salam and Bab-al-Hawa, the Iraqi crossing at Al Yarubiyah and the Jordanian crossing at Al-Ramtha for 180 days. The U.N. says rebels control the Syrian side at all four crossings.
Ja'afari said the government "counts on a neutral, effective and responsible role of the United Nations in dealing with the humanitarian situation in Syria, especially in terms of respecting Syrian sovereignty ... guaranteeing the non-politicization of humanitarian assistance, and refraining from manipulating those border crossings by some actors to introduce arms and terrorists."
Power, the U.S. ambassador, called on the council to display the unity and cooperation it showed in Monday's vote to address "the unfinished business" in the February resolution.
In February, the council not only demanded that all sides in the conflict allow immediate access for aid but it demanded the lifting of sieges of populated areas, an end to the deprivation of food to civilians, a halt to attacks against civilians, and the withdrawal of foreign fighters.
Monday's resolution also underscores "the need for the parties to agree on humanitarian pauses, days of tranquility, localized cease-fires and truces to allow humanitarian agencies safe and unhindered access to all affected areas in Syria" -- which Russia's Churkin strongly endorsed.
It also strongly condemned widespread human rights violations and expressed "grave alarm" at indiscriminate attacks in populated areas including intensified aerial bombing and the use of barrel bombs in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city -- and at "the spread of extremism and extremist groups" and the targeting of civilians based on their ethnicity or religion.
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