The U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously adopted a resolution to boost humanitarian access in Syria that threatens to take "further steps" in the case of non-compliance, demands cross-border aid access and condemns rights abuses by the Syrian government and opposition armed groups.
Russia and China, which have shielded Syria's government on the 15-member Security Council during the country's three-year-long civil war, voted in favor of the resolution. They had previously vetoed three resolutions that would have condemned Syria's government and threatened it with possible sanctions.
"This resolution should not have been necessary. Humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated; it is something to be allowed by virtue of international law," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council.
"Profoundly shocking to me is that both sides are besieging civilians as a tactic of war," he said after the vote.
The resolution asks Ban to report back to the council in 30 days on the implementation of the resolution and "expresses its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance." Diplomats say Russia is unlikely to agree to any action against Assad's government if is it found to be in non-compliance.
The United Nations says 9.3 million people need help and that well over 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that more than 136,000 have been killed since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
The resolution "demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for U.N. humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders."
It also "demands that all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs, and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering."
Western members of the Security Council have been considering a humanitarian resolution for almost a year. After months of talks, the council adopted a non-binding statement on Oct. 2 urging more access to aid, but that statement produced only a little administrative progress.
U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos had urged the Security Council to act to increase humanitarian access in Syria. Amos has repeatedly expressed frustration that violence and red tape have slowed aid deliveries to a trickle.
"I hope that the passing, by the United Nations Security Council, of a humanitarian resolution will facilitate the delivery of aid to people in desperate need in Syria," Amos said in a statement after the vote.