Diplomatic efforts to end civilian suffering in Syria have failed, top U.N. officials declare

McClatchy Washington BureauApril 23, 2014 

Mideast Syria Homs Last Stand

This file photo released on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 by the anti-government activist group Lens Young Homsi, has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows damaged buildings are seen in the Jouret al-Chiyah neighborhood, Homs province, Syria.

UNCREDITED — AP

Declaring that diplomatic efforts to alleviate suffering in Syria’s civil war have failed, the heads of five United Nations agencies issued a new warning Wednesday over the plight of millions of civilians trapped by fighting between the Assad regime and rebel forces.

“The war escalates in many areas,” the U.N. officials, whose agencies oversee humanitarian aid operations for Syria, said in a statement released in Geneva, Switzerland. “The humanitarian situation deteriorates day after day.”

They lamented the inadequate international response to a year-old request for $6.5 billion in emergency funding for Syrian relief efforts, saying that the “appeal has largely gone unanawered.” Only $1.2 billion have been pledged.

“Thus far, diplomatic efforts designed to end years of suffering have failed.” said the statement issued by U.N. Under-Secretary General Valerie Amos, the chief U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator, Anthony Lake, the executive director of UNICEF, Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ertharin Cousin, the head of the World Food Program, and Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization.

“We are doing all we can to save lives and alleviate suffering - even in the face of great danger to, and sacrifice by, our colleagues on the ground,” they said. “But we know that what we can do is not sufficient. Not nearly so.”

U.N. estimates say that the three-year-old war has left more than 9.3 million civilians in need of food, water, medical and other aid, including some 3.5 million people beseiged inside embattled urban centers like Aleppo and Homs, and other areas cut off from humanitarian supplies.

“For the civilians remaining in the cities of Aleppo and the Old City of Homs, as well as other parts of the country experiencing heavy fighting, the worst days are yet to come,” said the statement.

Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, said in a telephone interview that the statement reflected “frustration that this war has just not stopped and there are no signs of any progress towards reaching peace.”

“Secondly, there is frustration at the lack of humanitarian access. There is a huge concern for the suffering of people in besieged areas and only an intermittent ability to reach them,” she continued.

The statement came two months after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution demanding that President Bashar Assad and rebel forces dominated by Islamic militants give humanitarian agencies unfettered access to civilians suffering shortages of food, water, medicines and other assistance.

“All too often humanitarian access to those in need is being denied by all sides,” said the statement.

The U.N. officials called anew on the Assad regime and its opponents to provide “unconditional humanitarian access” to all people in need, “using all available routes either across lines inside Syria or across its borders.”

They also urged an end to the seiges of civilians in Aleppo, the old city of Homs, and a series of rebel-held suburbs of the capital, Damascus, including the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk.

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