A 90-day emergency contingency plan to help civilians in Syria has been drawn up by the United Nations on Thursday amid visits from humanitarian officials who have expressed concern over “devastated” Syrian cities.
The plan includes readying food stocks for 1.5 million people deprived of basic supplies after nearly a year of conflict which has resulted in more than 8,500 civilian deaths during Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on a popular uprising.
“More needs to be done,” John Ging of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told a one-day Syria Humanitarian Forum on Thursday. “There is a huge amount of concern.
“The U.N. side of the humanitarian community is looking at the process of additional food stocks pre-positioned to target 1.5 million people,” said Ging, who is chairing the meeting.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said on Thursday that the Baba Amro district of the Syrian city of Homs was devastated by an assault by government forces and the fate of people who live there was unclear.
“The devastation there is significant, that part of Homs is completely destroyed and I am concerned to know what has happened to the people who live in that part of the city,” Amos told Reuters TV after leaving a meeting with ministers in Damascus.
Amos, a Briton, is the first senior international figure to visit Baba Amro since the government launched its assault against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
Annan warns against more force
Meanwhile, United Nations and Arab League special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan warned on Thursday that further militarization in Syria will worsen the conflict.
“I believe futher militarisation will make the situation worse,” Annan told reporters in Cairo after talks with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi.
He warned of “the possible impact of Syria on the region if there is any miscalculation.”
“I hope that no one is very seriously thinking of using force in this situation,” he said, adding that diplomatic efforts should be kept up.
“We have to be careful that we don’t introduce a medicine that is worse than the disease,” Annan said.
He called on “the Syrian opposition to come together to work with us to find a solution that will respect the aspirations of the Syrian people.”
Annan has been holding talks in the Egyptian capital ahead of a trip to Damascus he said was now set for Saturday.
“We will do whatever we can to urge and press the cessation of hostilities and an end to the killing and violence,” he said earlier, ahead of talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr.
“But of course the ultimate solution lies in the political settlement,” he said.
Annan and his deputy former Palestinian foreign minister Nasser al-Qudwa, who will head to Damascus on Saturday, are acting under a UN General Assembly mandate as well as Arab League resolutions on the crisis.
A U.N. General Assembly resolution passed on February 16 demands that Syria “cease all violence and protect its population,” free everyone detained in connection with the unrest, withdraw troops from urban areas and guarantee freedom of demonstration.
It also insists on “full and unhindered access and movement” for a currently suspended Arab League observer mission and international news media “to determine the truth about the situation on the ground.”
Damascus has welcomed the visit by Annan and Qudwa.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the only international agency to deploy aid workers in Syria, also took part in the meeting that lasted three hours.
“The political process is getting very complicated but the Syrian people cannot wait. Humanitarians have to step in,” Claus Sorensen, director general of the European Union’s aid department ECHO, told the talks.
“The purpose of this meeting is to give an answer to the immediate suffering ... It is about getting access, access and access - that is a precondition for actually providing any type of relief,” he said.
Hamoui, Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said the forum had been convened “contrary to the U.N. Charter.”
“Syria is not undergoing a humanitarian crisis,” Hamoui said, accusing some media of trying to “prepare the ground for foreign military intervention”.
“Today we are exporting products of industry and agriculture, and livestock as well to most countries of the region,” he said.