The U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously adopted a resolution aimed at alleviating the humanitarian crisis that has gripped Syria for nearly three years and helping millions who are in need of vital aid.
"Today this council has unanimously articulated a set of demands to alleviate the worst humanitarian crisis of this generation," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters after the vote was passed. "The Security Council has spoken; it is time now for long overdue action."
The U.S. envoy also pointed out that in addition to the more than 130,000 deaths since protests first began in March 2011, some 6.8 million Syrians are in need of aid within the country and 250,000 are trapped in besieged areas.
For the past two weeks, tough diplomatic negotiations have been under way with the resolution text ultimately having been watered down from its original form to appeal to the full 15-member council, including Russia, which is Syria's closest ally.
While the final resolution did not threaten sanctions, the Security Council "expresses its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance." U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is charged with reporting to the members within 30 days of the resolution's adoption and every 30 days thereafter.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the resolution, after negotiations, "took on a balanced nature" which Moscow backed.
While Churkin acknowledged that the council could consider further steps, he stressed they would not automatically lead to sanctions.
Ban welcomed the resolution, which he said builds on the council president's statement adopted last October. The U.N. chief also explained how it strengthens the council's engagement to help civilians and allow for aid delivery, especially as half the country is in need of urgent support.
"This resolution should not have been necessary," he noted. "Humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated; it is something to be allowed by virtue of international law."
The resolution demands "that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for U.N. humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders" to ensure aid reaches the neediest through the most direct routes.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told council members that "the Syrian government has long welcomed all sincere efforts in order to help improve the humanitarian situation" in his country and that his government "has continued to work day and night in order to fulfill all of the humanitarian needs of its citizens."
"The primary responsibility lies with the Syrian authorities. Others on the ground including opposition groups must also comply," said Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan, whose country led negotiations on the resolution along with Luxembourg and Jordan. "The resolution has made very clear the council's expectations that its demands will be met and that there will be consequences for non-compliance."
Meanwhile, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said she hopes the passage of the resolution will translate into action on the ground that "will facilitate the delivery of aid to people in desperate need" and ensure ordinary people "who have been bearing the brunt of the violence, are protected."