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UN chief warns Syria that starving civilians is a war crime

© AFP | A Syrian army barricade at the outskirts of Madaya

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-01-15

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday warned all sides in the Syrian conflict that the use of starvation as a weapon was a war crime, as the second convoy carrying food and aid to residents reached famine-struck Madaya.

"Let me be clear: the use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime," Ban told reporters.

"All sides – including the Syrian government which has the primary responsibility to protect Syrians – are committing this and other atrocious acts prohibited under international humanitarian law," he said.

Ban spoke after a second convoy carrying food and other necessities entered Madaya on Thursday where residents told AFP they had been surviving on soup from boiled grass.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said aid trucks had entered Madaya near the border with Lebanon, and the villages of Kefraya and al-Foua in Idlib province in the northwest.

For months, tens of thousands have been blockaded by government troops in Madaya and surrounded by rebel forces in the two northwestern villages.

“According to the ICRC team that entered Madaya, the people were very happy, even crying when they realised that wheat flour is on the way,” Dominik Stillhart, International Committee of the Red Cross director of operations, said in New York.

Aid officials hoped to bring in more supplies, with fuel deliveries set for Sunday, according to Stillhart.

“We hope ... this effort will continue,” said Yacoub El Hillo, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Syria, who accompanied the convoy.

Peace talks and prosecutions

The Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Friday at the request of France, Britain and the US, trying to press Syria’s warring parties to lift sieges ahead of peace talks planned for January 25 in Geneva.

French Ambassador François Delattre told AFP that the meeting "will draw the world's attention to the humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding in Madaya and in other towns in Syria".

The United Nations is struggling to deliver aid to about 4.5 million Syrians who live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in besieged areas.

Humanitarian aid access is seen as a key confidence-building measure ahead of the peace talks.

Diplomats suggested that the talks would have no chance of success if the humanitarian crisis remains desperate.

"It will be difficult for them to negotiate while their children and close ones are threatened with famine or death," said a Security Council diplomat.

The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said Wednesday that the permanent Security Council members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – had pledged to take "immediate action" to push for deliveries of aid to besieged areas.

The Security Council has adopted resolutions demanding an end to the sieges, but these have been largely ignored.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, speaking in Qatar, said that those responsible for the starvation sieges should face justice.

"Should there be prosecutions? Of course, that should be the case,” he said. “At the very least there should be accountability for these crimes."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-01-14

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