Syria aid still stalled after UN resolution

The resolution called for the immediate lifting of sieges in specific towns and cities.

FILE: United Nations World Food Programme workers stand near a rebel fighter in a street on February 8, 2014 on the second day of a humanitarian mission in a besieged district of the central city of Homs. Picture: AFP.

BEIRUT - World powers have passed a landmark Security Council resolution demanding an end to restrictions on humanitarian operations in Syria, but aid workers doubt it has the punch to make Damascus grant access and let stuck convoys deliver vital supplies.

President Bashar al-Assad's administration and to a lesser extent rebels fighting to overthrow him have been accused of preventing food and medical care from reaching a quarter of a million people in besieged areas.

Russia, Assad's ally on the Security Council, and China have vetoed three resolutions that would have condemned him or threatened sanctions since Syrian forces cracked down on a pro-democracy uprising in 2011 that has since turned into a civil war. More than 140,000 have been killed in the fighting, which has forced half the population to flee from their homes.

Saturday's resolution threatened unspecified "further steps" if Damascus does not comply.

Though several Western envoys have expressed strong intent to push for Security Council action if the resolution is ignored, UN diplomats say Russia and China are unlikely to agree to any action if Syria's government does not comply.

An aid worker in the region said: "There are views that this resolution finally has some teeth. I don't see it that way."

"We are watching and waiting," he added. He did not want to be identified while negotiations between humanitarian organisations and authorities in Damascus are ongoing.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said there was no immediate breakthrough in delivering assistance since the Security Council adopted the resolution.


The resolution called for the immediate lifting of sieges in specific towns and cities around the country, including Yarmouk, a Palestinian neighbourhood in Damascus that took in refugees after the creation of Israel, where people have been trapped for eight months by an army siege.

The government says "terrorists" hold people hostage in besieged areas.

Filippo Grandi, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which cares for Palestinian refugees, visited Yarmouk on Sunday, where partial humanitarian access was granted this year but up to 20,000 are besieged.

On Tuesday, there was no sign that the authorities had lifted sieges on Yarmouk or other besieged areas, mostly around Damascus but also in central Homs city. The towns of Nubl and Zahra in the north, surrounded by rebels, are also mentioned in the resolution and remain under siege.


There has been some modest progress since the resolution passed. This week, the UN World Food Programme said it had delivered enough food for 33,000 people for one month in areas around Damascus that had not been reached for more than eight months.

It was not clear if this was a direct result of the resolution. Syria's public response has been mixed, but a flurry of stories on state media this week on successful aid operations shows the government at least wants to show its commitment.

The foreign ministry said on Sunday it was ready to cooperate but on the basis of "respecting national sovereignty" and added that the "Syrian government has always worked on performing its duties of providing the basic requirements to its citizens".

One particularly contentious issue cited by United Nations aid workers in private is a refusal by Damascus to allow cross-border operations from Turkey, which is opposed to Assad, to bring aid directly into rebel-held areas around Aleppo.

At the moment, convoys from Damascus UN operations have to cross active front lines to reach northern rebel-held areas.

The regional aid worker said moving aid in from Turkey would be a massive step. "The critical question is cross-border deliveries."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and top UN agency chiefs are due to brief the UN General Assembly on the humanitarian situation in Syria later on Tuesday, and Ban will report to the Security Council in a month on the implementation of the resolution.

Opposition activists have already accused the army of breaching another point in the resolution that demands an end to indiscriminate shelling and aerial attacks.

They said air raids on rebel-held towns across Syria killed 26 people on Monday, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based pro-opposition monitoring group, said four children had been killed on Monday in Aleppo by barrel bombs, improvised munitions that can flatten entire buildings.