UNITED NATIONS (AP) — In its first statement on Syria in seven months, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday deplored the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation there and called on the government to grant U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos "immediate and unhindered access."
The press statement, obtained by The Associated Press, is significant because it requires agreement of all 15 council members, including Russia and China, who have vetoed two resolutions condemning the Syrian government's bloody crackdown and calling for President Bashar Assad to step down.
While a press statement is not legally binding, it does reflect the growing concern of the council about the impact of the year-old conflict on Syria's civilian population.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the current council president, stressed that the statement's focus was only on the deteriorating humanitarian situation — not on the conflict itself, the political situation, or the appointment of former U.N. chief Kofi Annan as the new U.N.-Arab League special envoy to help find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
"This is focused on the immediate humanitarian crisis and it reflects the frustration and disappointment of all Security Council members that Valerie Amos was not given access to Syria," Lyall Grant said. "The power of the statement is that it has all 15 members of the Security Council supporting it."
The U.N. has estimated that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad struggle started in March 2011, when protesters inspired by successful Arab Spring uprisings against dictators in Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets in Syria. Activists put the total death toll at more than 8,000, most of them civilians.
The Security Council cited "the growing number of affected civilians, the lack of safe access to adequate medical services, and food shortages, particularly in areas affected by fighting and violence such as Homs, Hama, Deraa, Idlib."
It called on Syrian authorities "to allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all populations in need of assistance, in accordance with international law and guiding principles of humanitarian assistance."
The council expressed "deep disappointment" that Amos "was not granted authorization to visit Syria by the Syrian government in a timely manner, despite repeated requests and intense diplomatic contacts aimed at securing Syrian approval."
Amos said in a statement Wednesday that Syria had not approved her repeated requests to visit the country.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the Syrians have delayed a decision several times. He said Amos has been "extremely flexible ... and she's still ready to go at a moment's notice."
Council diplomats said Russia, Syria's closest ally, had urged Assad's government to approve a visit by Amos.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it received a "green light" from Syrian authorities to enter the besieged Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr on Friday.
"It's what the international community has been calling for quite some time — for there to be humanitarian access," Nesirky said Thursday when asked about the announcement. "Will that be enough? Probably not, but if it takes place it's something that would be a positive development for the people who are suffering in Homs."
The last statement approved by the Security Council was a stronger presidential statement on Aug. 3. Presidential statements become part of the council's record but, unlike resolutions, are not legally binding.
After months of deadlock, the council finally responded to the escalating violence in Syria in that statement, condemning Assad's forces for attacking civilians and committing human rights violations.
Council diplomats said they are continuing to discuss a possible new resolution despite vetoes by Russia and China of draft resolutions strongly backed by European countries and the U.S. in October and early February.
The United States has proposed elements for a new draft resolution, which have been given to Russia for consideration, a diplomat said speaking on condition of anonymity, because discussions have been private. But the diplomat cautioned unless both sides can agree on a text that Moscow and Beijing will not veto, nothing will be circulated.