Middle East

UN Security Council urges humanitarian access to Syria

A displaced Syrian girl walks upstairs from her family cave dwelling near Kafer Rouma, in ancient ruins used as temporary shelter by those families who have fled from the heavy fighting and shelling in Idlib province, on 27 September 2013
Image caption This girl - one of almost six million internally displaced Syrians - is forced to make her bed in ancient ruins

The UN Security Council has expressed alarm at the "rapid deterioration" of the humanitarian situation in Syria and demanded immediate access for aid.

It is the second time it has shown a united stance on Syria in under a week, following last Friday's resolution on eliminating Syria's chemical weapons.

Disarmament experts began their work inside Syria on Tuesday.

But they will be hampered by ongoing fighting around the country - including clashes between anti-regime factions.

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Media captionNewsnight's Jeremy Paxman recently met refugees in the Bekaa Valley refugee camp in east Lebanon

At least 19 troops and pro-government militiamen have been killed since Monday in rebel attacks on Barzeh district, to the north of Damascus, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

And in the town of Azaz on the border with Turkey, the UK-based activist group reported heavy clashes between al-Qaeda-linked fighters and Western-backed rebels on Wednesday.

The clashes, between militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have erupted since ISIS forced FSA rivals out of Azaz last month.

The discord - driven by claims over territory and resources as well as ideological differences - adds a new layer of complexity to the conflict which has killed over 100,000 people in two years.

Children's plight

More than two million Syrians have fled the conflict in their country, and many more have been displaced internally.

The statement agreed by the Security Council on Wednesday highlights those displaced and trapped by the "unacceptable and escalating level of violence" in Syria.

The nearly six million of internally displaced, "nearly half of whom are children, are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance" without which "their lives will be at risk".

It condemns "widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities", as well as "any" such violations by armed groups.

And it deplores the heavy price paid by civilians caught in the conflict, saying Syrian authorities "bear the primary responsibility to protect their populations" - urging them to provide safe and unhindered access to populations in need of assistance.

Aid agencies complain that the Syrian government has hindered access to visas and tried to limit the number of foreign groups operating in the country.

Following the adoption of the statement, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the Council's task was now "to turn these strong words into meaningful action".

Syria's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, said the Syrian government would study the council statement before responding.

On Tuesday, the opposition Syrian National Coalition warned that thousands of families around Damascus, in an area under siege from pro-government forces, were at risk of starving to death.

It said seven people had already died of starvation in the suburb of Moadamiye, and called for aid to be delivered to them.