UN humanitarian aid chief denied entry into Syria

UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – U.N. humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos said yesterday she was “deeply disappointed” that Syria has refused to allow her to the visit the country, where she had hoped to assess the need for emergency relief in besieged towns.

Amos said in a statement that the refusal came “despite my repeated requests to meet Syrian officials at the highest level to discuss the humanitarian situation and the need for unhindered access to the people affected by the violence.”

“Given the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, with an increasing need for medical assistance, food and basic supplies, improving access, so that assistance can reach those in urgent need, is a matter of the highest priority,” she said.

A senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity that Damascus’ refusal to allow Amos into Syria came “despite Russian efforts to get her access.”

It was not immediately clear what impact Damascus’ refusal would have on Russia, which last week encouraged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send a representative to liaise with all sides for the safe transit of aid convoys.

Russia and China have twice vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Syria for its 11-month crackdown on pro-democracy protesters across the country that the United Nations says killed more than 7,500 civilians, saying Western and Arab nations are seeking Libya-style “regime change” in Syria.

Amos’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs plans to organize a humanitarian conference on Syria on March 8 in Geneva, which might include an appeal for aid, envoys said.

The senior diplomat said that Syria clearly did not want Amos to see the violence in Homs and other locations.

“All the signs out of Homs are that they’re trying to finish it off,” he said. “They clearly feel that letting her in now would be devastating for their image, as indeed it would be.”

A senior U.N. official said on Tuesday that government security forces have prevented more than 5,000 civilians from fleeing Syrian towns under siege.

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The newly appointed U.N.-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisis, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will meet with his successor Ban Ki-moon and members of the Security Council this week, Annan and U.N. diplomats said.

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