ARSAL, Syria — A senior U.N. humanitarian official called on the U.N. Security Council this week to take action to help speed up the delivery of aid to civilians in war ravaged Syria, which is enmeshed in a nearly three-year long sectarian conflict that has uprooted more than nine million people from their homes.
Valerie Amos, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, attacked the 15-member council for its failure to reach agreement on a resolution on aid deliveries. “It’s 14 months since I raised the alarm in the Security Council about Homs. We managed to get 1,200 people out of Homs, we managed to get food and medicines in for 2,500 people,” Amos told the council in New York on Thursday. “If it’s going to take 14 months to do that when you’ve got 250,000 people in besieged communities, when you’ve got over three million people in hard-to-reach communities, I really find it very difficult to say that this is a [right]model.”
The Syrian civil war, in a which a government controlled by the country’s minority Alawite sect, is attempting to put down a rebellion dominated by Syria’s Sunni majority, has left an estimated 9.3 million in need of dire humanitarian assistance as of January, according to the U.N.
The sectarian conflict, which pits insurgents backed by Sunni gulf states and Turkey against a regime supported by Shia Iran and Hezbollah, has sent an estimated 2.4 million refugees fleeing into neighboring countries and left an additional 6.5 million people internally displaced, according to U.N figures.
Amos’ plea to the Security Council comes as the refugee situation in neighboring Lebanon, now home to about a million Syrian refugees, the equivalent to around one quarter of Lebanon’s 4.1 million people, looks as if it will become even more dire. A buildup of Syrian government forces around the city Yabroud, the last insurgent stronghold in Syria’s Qalamoun mountains, led the U.N. Refugee Agency to say on Friday that it is “bracing for a big influx” of refugees into Lebanon, a sectarian tinderbox that fought its own religious civil war between 1975 and 1990.
Melissa Fleming, the spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said about 500 to 600 families had already arrived in Arsal, a predominately Sunni Muslim Lebanese border town that is supportive of the Sunni insurgents battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Shia-backed regime.
Arsal has been the target of a number of rocket attacks that the town’s Sunni residents say emanate from neighboring Shia areas. A day after a suicide bombing struck the nearby Shia town of Hermel on January 16, leaving three people dead, 11 rockets crashed into Arsal, killing at least seven people, five of whom were children.
The tit-for-tat violence continued on February 1, as a suicide car bomber detonated his explosive-laden vehicle near a gas station in Hermel, a bastion of support for the Shia Islamist group Hezbollah; this incident has sent fighters across the border to help Assad’s government put down the rebellion by his country’s Sunni majority. The gray Jeep Grand Cherokee used in the attack, which killed three people and wounded 23 others, was said to have passed through Arsal before being blown up in Hermel, according to security sources cited by the Daily Star, a prominent English-language Lebanese newspaper.
– Eric Erdahl
Sources: Christian Science Monitor, U.S. Agency for International Development, BBC, The Daily Star-Lebanon, The Daily Star-Lebanon
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