At a virtual UN Security Council meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls for the reopening of closed crossings at Bab al Salam on the Turkish border, and Al Yarubiyah on the Iraqi border.
Saying the world should be ashamed over Syria's suffering, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged the reopening of aid crossings blocked by Russia as the United Nations pleaded for billions in fresh donations.
Chairing a virtual Security Council session on Syria on Monday, the mild-mannered top US diplomat spoke with clear passion as he voiced outrage at major powers' inertia 10 years into the civil war.
"How is it possible that we can't find in our hearts the common humanity to actually take meaningful action?" said President Joe Biden's top diplomat, recalling his own two children.
"Look into your hearts," he implored. "We have to find a way to do something, to take action to help people. That is our responsibility. And shame on us if we don't meet it."
Relief supplies into Syria, where the UN estimates that 12.3 million people, or most of the population, need assistance, can enter only one crossing, Bab al Hawa on the Turkish border.
Russia is allied with regime leader Bashar al Assad and wielded its veto power last year to oppose other crossings into Syria on the grounds that they violate the Damascus regime's sovereignty.
Blinken told the Security Council: "Sovereignty was never intended to ensure the right of any government to starve people, deprive them of life-saving medicine, bomb hospitals or commit any other human rights abuse against citizens."
As Blinken highlighted, Russian air strike near the crossing on March 21 caused disruption to all supplies into Syria.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, without naming Russia, said the attack destroyed 24 parked trucks used for humanitarian aid and destroyed one quarter of the food and other humanitarian supplies in a warehouse that helps 4,000 people.
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergey Vershinin, in his own remarks to the UN videoconference denounced the "growing politicisation of humanitarian aid."
The proposed cross-border aid "violates the principles of international law" and is only because "the government that is in place does not suit" the West, he said.
Vershinin also voiced outrage that the Assad regime was not invited to a donors conference that got under way in Brussels that aims to raise $10 billion for humanitarian relief both inside Syria and to support refugees.
UN agencies have appealed to the more than 50 countries and 30 organisations represented to keep opening their pocketbooks, pointing to major needs due to the effects of Covid and a sharp deterioration of the value of the Syrian pound which makes food more expensive.
"Our ability to deliver aid and stave off an even worse situation for millions of civilians will depend on the political will and financial generosity of the international community," Lowcock told the Security Council.
Blinken called for the reopening of closed crossings at Bab al Salam, also on the Turkish border, and Al Yarubiyah on the Iraqi border, saying that they respectively supplied four million and 1.3 million Syrians.
"Let's give ourselves more pathways, rather than fewer pathways, to deliver food and medicine to the Syrian people," Blinken said.
Call for a political solution
"And let's not pressure Syrian refugees to return until they feel they can do so in safety and in dignity," said Blinken, the stepson of a refugee who has often spoken of the need to protect people.
The border issue is expected to come to a head again in July when the one remaining crossing comes up for renewal by the Security Council.
Blinken called ultimately for a political solution in Syria based on Security Council Resolution 2254, approved unanimously in 2015.
While Russia has essentially declared Assad the victor of the war, the United States and its European allies are adamant that there must be accountability for crimes over a decade of war that has claimed nearly 400,000 lives, caused millions to flee and saw the rise of the Daesh terror group.