UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N.'s chief humanitarian official on Thursday asked the Security Council to approve cross-border relief operations into Syria to deliver aid to millions of suffering civilians.
It was the focus of a public briefing by the U.N. agency chiefs for humanitarian affairs, refugees, women in conflict, and children in conflict, who used the Security Council platform as a way of speaking over the heads of the deadlocked council nations to appeal to the world for pressure to allow relief for Syria's civilians.
The agency chiefs launched their campaign Monday with an op-ed in The New York Times that said: "There still seems to be an insufficient sense of urgency among the governments and parties that could put a stop to the cruelty and carnage in Syria."
The Security Council has been deadlocked for months on the Syrian war, and did not act or make any statement after Thursday's briefing.
Western and Arab nations blame the conflict on Syrian President Bashar Assad's government. Russia insists on assigning equal blame for the suffering to the Syrian rebel opposition, and has cast vetoes, along with China, to block draft council resolutions.
Human Rights Watch's U.N. director, Philippe Bolopion, said in a statement that "As if blocking Security Council action to stop the killing was not callous enough, Russia and China also stand in the way of council efforts to press President Assad to open up access to aid." He called for stepped-up cross-border relief shipments "with or without Syria's consent."
But Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari stressed to the council "the exclusive responsibility of the Syrian government in protecting its citizens ... in a way that safeguards its sovereignty."
Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said, "We were told, just in the last 24 hours, that the (Syrian) government now requires two ministers to sign off the movement of every single truck. This is going to make our job completely impossible." She said children are starving to death in Syria for want of food aid.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, warned the council that without an end to the fighting soon, almost half of Syria's 20.8 million population could be in need of humanitarian help by the end of 2013.
Guterres said 400,000 refugees had fled Syria in the last seven weeks, bringing the population of Syrians registered as refugees or waiting to be registered to 1,367,413. If current trends continue, he said, then by the end of the year there may be up to 3.5 million Syrian refugees, together with 6.5 million people inside Syria who could become in need of help.
"These figures are terrifying," Guterres said.
In the past few weeks, the humanitarian agencies have separately warned that their resources are running low, and that without additional funds they will be forced to scale back relief efforts.
About half of the $1.5 billion needed to fund Syria's humanitarian needs through June has been collected, Amos said, largely thanks to a recent $300 million pledge from Kuwait.
Amos said 6.8 million Syrians are in need, with 4.25 million displaced within Syria and 1.3 million as refugees in neighboring countries.
The U.N. special representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, said women in Syria have been "raped, tortured and humiliated."
"Many have attempted to commit suicide," she added.
On Wednesday she presented a report to the council that accused Syria's military and intelligence forces and an allied militia of using systematic sexual violence on women.
She said Thursday that Syria had brought one instance of the rape of a Syrian woman by opposition forces to her attention.
Bangura urged the opposition Free Syrian Army to issue orders to its fighters to respect women and hold rapists accountable, and made the same demand of Syrian government forces and its Shabbiha militia.