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U.N. chief blames Syrian government, rebels for humanitarian disaster

U.S. resumes nonlethal aid to Free Syrian Army as Syria continues to divide Arab League

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blamed the Syrian government and opposition Monday for escalating violence and blocking aid to millions of Syrians in desperate need of help, despite pledges from both sides to comply with a Security Council resolution demanding immediate access anywhere in the country that aid is needed.

As a result of the intensifying "indiscriminate and disproportionate violence and brutality," 3.5 million people are estimated to be in need of aid in hard-to-reach areas, an increase of 1 million since the beginning of the year, Ban said.

Overall, more than 9.3 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian aid, including 6.5 million internally displaced, Ban said. The U.N. chief is required to report to the Security Council every 30 days on the implementation of the resolution, which was adopted a month ago.

Despite the worsening security environment, the U.N. World Food Program and its partners provided food to 3.7 million people in February, Ban said. But he added that "the assistance reaching people continues to fall far short of what is required to cover even their basic needs.”

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The resolution demands that all parties, especially the Syrian government, promptly allow safe access for humanitarian aid across conflict lines and borders, and it calls on both sides to immediately lift sieges of populated areas. It also demands that all parties stop depriving civilians of food, halt attacks against civilians and foreign fighters withdraw from Syria.

The measure threatened no sanctions but expressed the council's intention to take "further steps" if its demands are not fulfilled.

Since the resolution's adoption, Ban said there has been only limited improvement in the delivery of aid to hard-to-reach areas. There have been no new cease-fires in besieged areas, where fighting between government forces and opposition groups have trapped hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Ban said increased fighting between the opposition Free Syrian Army and the Al-Qaeda breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has also complicated the delivery of aid and cut key access routes in some northern locations.

The Syrian government recently approved the opening of one border crossing with Turkey to allow aid into the al-Hasakeh governorate, but Ban said it has not approved U.N. requests to open additional crossings with Turkey and Jordan.

"The government restated its position that any border crossing can be opened as long as it is a ‘legal’ official crossing point and will not compromise the sovereignty of the government of Syria," Ban said.

Even as humanitarian aid fails to reach many besieged areas, U.S. State Department officials told Foreign Policy magazine on Tuesday the U.S. would reopen the flow of nonlethal assistance to moderate rebel factions, including tens of millions of dollars in ambulances, communications equipment, and pickup trucks.

After the $80 million U.S. aid package to the Free Syrian Army slowed down over the past few months due to transportation obstacles and rebel infighting, the State Department said that opposition forces had secured a supply route into embattled Aleppo and pushed out ISIL factions.

“This will be one of the largest shipments we’ve ever put across,” Mark Ward, the State Department’s senior adviser for nonlethal assistance in the region, told Foreign Policy.

The renewal of nonlethal aid, which many rebel factions criticize as inadequate to change the balance of power on the ground, came after another bloody day of fighting across Syria claimed 238 lives on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group that monitors the violence.

At an Arab League summit in Kuwait on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia echoed the call for more support for rebel forces, which it has periodically provided with weapons during the three-year uprising.

"Exiting from the Syrian crisis requires changing the balance of forces on the ground," Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz told the opening session, adding that Riyadh wanted a member of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the major Western-backed opposition group, to take Syria’s seat in the Arab League.

The last summit, in Doha, granted the seat to the SNC leader, but several countries, including Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria expressed their hesitance to the move. The SNC, which operates in exile from Istanbul, has limited legitimacy on the ground in Syria.

Syria’s membership in the league was suspended in November 2011 over the government’s crackdown on nonviolent unrest.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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