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UN orders Syria’s warring sides to permit aid deliveries

Security Council issues decree, in rare unified vote

UNITED NATIONS — In a hard-fought show of unity among world powers, the UN Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to order the warring parties in Syria to stop blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid, though without the immediate prospect of punishment against those who disobey.

The resolution was the first binding measure to be approved by the divided Security Council in a conflict that began nearly three years ago and has killed more than 100,000 and left a trail of polio and starvation.

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The measure calls on the Syrian government to allow relief agencies to enter the country, criticizes the dropping of barrel bombs by government aircraft, and strongly condemns terror attacks, plainly referring to some of the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

Until the moment of the vote, it was unclear whether Syria’s principal ally, Russia, would approve it. The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, ended the suspense at 11 a.m. as he entered the council’s chambers.

“Of course we’re going to support it,” Churkin told reporters. “It’s a pretty good resolution.”

The adoption of the resolution was made possible, diplomats said, by important concessions. It contains no specific enforcement language, saying only that the council will keep tabs on all sides in the war and meet later to decide whether to punish them.

Russia would have vetoed any specific threat of sanctions, Western diplomats said. It also contains no threat to take those suspected of committing war crimes to the International Criminal Court, a move Russia and the United States are apparently conflicted about. It says only that the parties in the conflict could be guilty of committing such crimes.

The resolution deplores the difficulties in enabling humanitarian assistance to all civilians.

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As for sanctions, the measure leaves that fight for another day by stating “its intent to take further steps in the case of noncompliance with this resolution.”

In Syria on Saturday, government forces captured two rebel-held areas on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after days of intense fighting near a decades-old cease-fire line between Syria and Israel, the Associated Press reported, citing state TV.

Troops and progovernment gunmen known as National Defense Forces captured the areas of Rasm al-Hour and Rasm al-Sad, south of the town of Quneitra.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory For Human Rights confirmed troops were on the offensive, adding that the air force took part in the attack. The Syrian army has been reinforcing its positions in Quneitra as part of efforts to drive rebels from the area.

Although the final UN resolution on humanitarian aid does not threaten sanctions, it does contain specific references to the Syrian government, which its critics in the West, including the United States, insisted on.

It expresses, for instance, “grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, in particular the dire situation of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in besieged areas, most of whom are besieged by the Syrian armed forces and some by opposition groups.”

It also expresses concern for “the dire situation of over 3 million people in hard-to-reach areas,” and deplores the difficulties in enabling humanitarian assistance to all civilians.

In a nod to Russian demands, the resolution “strongly” condemns the “increased terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties and destruction carried out by organizations and individuals associated with Al Qaeda, its affiliates and other terrorist groups.”

In several places, there are specific, pointed references to the government’s singular role in blocking aid.

One section reads that the resolution “demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders, in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need through the most direct routes.”

Russia has vetoed three resolutions pertaining to Syria in three years.

It initially dismissed the need for this one, too, saying that it preferred to let the warring parties on the ground agree to local cease-fires, one by one, so as to let in food and medicine.

Russia had said all along that it would not support a resolution that was “ideological,” though in truth, all Security Council decisions are political by nature.

The measure received support in recent weeks from stronger statements by UN officials. In her briefing to the council in mid-February, the UN humanitarian relief chief, Valerie Amos, named several communities that were trapped behind conflict lines, pointing to the culpability of the government.

On Wednesday, the UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, cited cases of starvation deaths in towns beyond the reach of food and medicine.

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