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Syria Stalls Senior U.N. Official’s Visit to War Zone

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 29 2012 (IPS) - The United Nations, which remains politically deadlocked over the drawn-out crisis in Syria, has hit another roadblock, this time over humanitarian assistance to the thousands of men, women and children caught up in the 11-month-old conflict.

Despite repeated efforts, Valerie Amos, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, has failed to get approval for a proposed visit to Syria.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad has continued to stall – virtually refusing to cooperate with the United Nations.

“I am deeply disappointed that I have not been able to visit Syria, despite my repeated requests to meet Syrian officials at the highest level to discuss the humanitarian situation and the need for unhindered access to the people affected by the violence,” Amos said Wednesday.

The Syrian government has not only remained silent over the U.N. offer to facilitate food and medical supplies but also turned down a request by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for a pause in hostilities to evacuate the wounded.

U.N. spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters Wednesday that Amos was ready to go “at a moment’s notice” but that the Syrian government has failed to agree on a date.

“She hasn’t got the green light yet,” he said.

According to the United Nations, over 7,500 have been killed, mostly civilians, and including members of the Syrian security forces.

“Every day that we are not able to reach people, especially in the towns where there is heavy fighting, prolongs their suffering,” Amos said.

The United Nations and its partners stand ready to help humanitarian aid reach people in desperate need in Syria, she added, pointing out this should be one of the highest priorities in the ongoing conflict.

A meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Tunis last week called for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Syria.

But this proposal is considered a non-starter since it has to be approved by the 15-member Security Council where Russia and China have already exercised their vetoes to protect the Assad regime.

Both countries rejected a Security Council resolution last month critical of the Syrian government which was accused of committing atrocities against civilians.

Speaking in Tunis last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying, “It’s quite distressing to see two permanent members of the Security Council using their veto when people are being murdered: women, children and brave young men.”

“It’s just despicable. And I ask, whose side are they on?” she said.

Clinton also told a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday “there would be an argument to be made” that Assad was a “war criminal” in the context of a definition by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Navi Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Wednesday that Syria should be referred to the ICC.

Addressing an “urgent debate” of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Pillay said there were massive campaigns of arrest by the Syrian military and security forces and an escalation of violence in the country.

“Blockades have made it impossible for the injured to reach hospitals or for supplies of food, water and medical supplies to reach residents,” she said.

Pillay also referred to reports of increased armed attacks by anti- government fighters.

The Syrian government has provided the U.N. Human Rights office with casualty figures which put the total number of people killed in the violence – civilians, soldiers and police officers – between March of last year and mid January 2012 at more than 3,800, she said.

But the U.N. Human Rights office believes the actual numbers maybe many more, she noted.

“What is urgently needed today is for the killings to stop. Those committing atrocities in Syria have to understand that the international community will not stand by and watch this carnage and that their decisions and the actions they take today ultimately will not go unpunished.”

Pillay said she believed the situation of Syria should be referred to the ICC. The prosecutor of the ICC is able to initiate an investigation on the basis of a referral from a state party to the court or from the U.N. Security Council.

Pillay also called on the Syrian authorities to cooperate with international mechanisms, particularly the newly appointed special envoy, Kofi Annan. The former U.N. secretary-general was appointed jointly by the United Nations and the League of Arab States.

Syrian Ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui told the Human Rights Council it was the desire of some to use the Council “for slander and libel”. The real aim of the meeting was to cover up the murder and violence of armed groups directed against innocent civilians, he added.

“The Syrian government was aware that the quality of services had regressed but armed groups have targeted state infrastructure including educational and health institutions,” he said.

The international community, he said, should stop enticing and exciting sectarian violence.

The action by the Human Rights Council would fuel the flames of terrorism and prolong the crisis, he declared.


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