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.