UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. humanitarian chief who was just in Damascus said Monday she informed the Syrian government that the United Nations will be stepping up contacts with the opposition inside Syria.
Valerie Amos said she assured the government that the U.N. has every intention of continuing work in Syria to help all those in need, which means moving across government lines into disputed and opposition-controlled areas.
Syria faces a growing humanitarian crisis. The 21-month battle to bring down President Bashar Assad has already forced some 3 million Syrians from their homes, according to a new estimate, and cold, wet winter weather is making life increasingly unbearable for the displaced. Among those who left their homes are more than 500,000 who fled to neighboring countries.
The U.N. already does humanitarian work in both government- and rebel-controlled areas, working with a range of local partners and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
Amos told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on her trip that she asked the government to allow the U.N. to import fuel so it can move around Syria, and to allow 10 additional international humanitarian organizations to work in the country to scale-up the U.N.’s work.
Amos said the government promised an answer on the fuel Tuesday, and reiterated the commitment it made to her and to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September that U.N. humanitarian organizations can move around the country.
“The key thing Saturday was informing the government that if we are truly to make use of the access that the government say we can have, it means that we have to cross lines, we have to move from government-controlled areas to disputed areas to opposition-controlled areas,” she said.
“I also informed the government that we will be making greater contacts with the opposition inside of Syria itself,” she said.
Amos, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said she explained to the government that humanitarian aid must be provided in an impartial and neutral way.
“If we’re going to get to all Syrians we must do that,” she said. “The government accepted that.”
Amos met Saturday with officials including Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and Minister of National Reconciliation Ali Haidar.
The state-run news agency SANA quoted al-Moallem as blaming the suffering of the Syrian people on U.S. and European sanctions imposed on his country, and said Haidar criticized the U.N. for exploiting the conflict “politically not as a humanitarian case.”
Amos said she heard shelling all day Saturday in Damascus “so it’s clear that the situation remains volatile.”
She said her office has national staff in five locations outside Damascus and is looking at a range of options on how it continues operating outside the capital.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.