Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the armed rebel groups seeking to topple him continue to block aid, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, signaling a possible violation of the Security Council resolution that threatens punitive measures in event of non-compliance.
“Humanitarian access in Syria remains extremely challenging” with medicine delivery being particularly difficult, Ban wrote in a March 22 report to the council, according to a copy of the unpublished report seen yesterday by Bloomberg News.
The 13-page report will serve as a major test as to whether Russia -- a major Assad ally -- and the U.S. and its Western allies will be able to cooperate on the conflict, as ties fray over President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
It’s the first of Ban’s 30-day bulletins on implementation of the council’s February resolution, which demanded that all warring parties “allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access” for UN agencies or face unspecified further steps.
The resolution didn’t include details on what possible punitive measures the UN’s most powerful body could or would authorize in event of non-compliance, as Russia objected to specifying actions.
Over the past month, no new ceasefires were reached to grant access to about 175,000 people who remain besieged by Assad’s forces and 45,000 by armed opposition groups, Ban wrote.
While Syria has provided some access to areas that had been been inaccessible, it hasn’t eased bureaucratic impediments for UN aid workers, Ban said.
“Significant challenges to the delivery of assistance remain, including: the need for multiple requests for approval of inter-agency convoys, which often go unanswered; the government’s lack of internal communication of approvals to those on the ground, resulting in denial of access or delays at checkpoints; and continued insecurity,” he wrote.
Increased fighting among Western-backed rebel groups and the Islamist militias has delayed aid convoys as they were unable to guarantee safe passage, he added.
More than 9.3 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, and nearly 2.6 million people have sought refuge in neighboring countries and North Africa since the conflict erupted in March 2011, according to Ban.
Western members of the Security Council will decide whether to act on the lack of progress on improving aid access, after hearing from Valerie Amos, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, on March 28, according to a UN diplomat who asked not to be identified due to sensitivity of negotiations.
The two immediate options for boosting humanitarian access would be to push for a new Security Council resolution that requires countries to grant cross-border access for UN humanitarian agencies or to punish Syria with sanctions, the diplomat said.
While Russia, which has previously blocked resolutions in order to shield the Syrian government, is expected to continue to do so, the diplomat said it’s necessary to extend efforts that underscore Russia’s lack of cooperation or highlight its isolation from the international community.
Russia is one of the five permanent Security Council members that have veto power.