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Originally published Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 4:04 PM

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U.N. unites to demand aid access for all of Syria

The resolution calls on the Syrian government to allow relief agencies to enter the country; decries the dropping of barrel bombs by government aircraft; and strongly condemns terrorist attacks.

The New York Times

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UNITED NATIONS — In a rare show of unity, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday for a resolution ordering 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, which is legally binding, addresses a conflict that has gone on for nearly three years, killing more than 130,000 people. It calls on the Syrian government to allow relief agencies to enter the country, including from across national borders; decries the dropping of barrel bombs by government aircraft; and strongly condemns terrorist attacks, plainly referring to some of the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad. According to the United Nations, 9.3 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance and 6.8 million have fled their homes but remain in the country.

The resolution also calls on the U.N. secretary-general to submit progress reports, and while it does not threaten sanctions, economic or otherwise, it promises to take “further steps” against those who do not comply. Britain and France, among Syria’s most biting critics on the 15-member council, indicated their readiness to introduce a resolution calling for tougher measures in the event of noncompliance.

Before the vote, council diplomats said it was clear there would be no chance of approval from Russia, Syria’s strongest ally, if the measure contained any language on sanctions. So just before the text was finalized, the suggestion of sanctions came out; late Friday afternoon, Russia signaled its assent. The countries pushing for the resolution were clearly aiming to put it up for a vote during the Olympic Games in Sochi to exert the greatest leverage on Russia.

On Saturday morning, as he entered the council chambers, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said: “Of course we’re going to support it. It’s a pretty good resolution.”

Inside, Churkin made a point to say the Assad government had made “progress” in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid. There was no suggestion Russia’s support for the Assad government was diminishing, though one U.N. diplomat said Russia’s vote could be a sign of its “uneasiness” over the Syrian government’s unwillingness to make aid delivery easier.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, emphasized that Churkin had joined in the condemnation of the Syrian government.

“We are heartened that our Russian colleagues have joined us in demanding the end of the use of indiscriminate weapons like barrel bombs,” she said after the vote, “and how all the parties, but particularly the regime, need to stop using food and medicine as a weapon of war.”

Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, Russia has vetoed three resolutions trying to address broader concerns. It initially dismissed the need for this one, too, saying 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. But Russia eventually signaled its intention to engage by putting forward a resolution of its own, and several rounds of negotiations ensued.

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-Qaida, its affiliates and other terrorist groups.” The Syrian government refers to all of the rebels as terrorists.

In several places, the resolution points to the government’s singular role in blocking aid. For instance, it “demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for U.N. humanitarian agencies ...”

After the vote, Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, told the council: “This resolution should not have been necessary. Humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated; it is something to be allowed by virtue of international law.”

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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