Russia told the United States on Thursday that it favors a continued United Nations presence in Syria, saying a U.N. exit from the Middle Eastern nation would have “serious negative consequences.”
In a meeting with U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov emphasized “the need to maintain the U.N. presence in Syria,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The United States has said unarmed U.N. observers should not remain in Syria beyond an Aug. 19 deadline, but that Washington is willing to consider an alternative U.N. presence in the country to deal with the deadly 17-month conflict.
U.N. warns of ‘destitution’ in Syria
Meanwhile, U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos said Thursday she was still pushing Damascus to allow international aid organizations to operate in Syria, warning that more than one million Syrians faced “destitution.”
“Over a million people have been uprooted and face destitution. Perhaps a million more have urgent humanitarian needs due to the widening impact of the crisis on the economy and people’s livelihoods,” she told reporters in Damascus.
Amos, who is due to visit Beirut later Thursday, said the total number of people in need of assistance could be as high as 2.5 million people.
She cautioned that said U.N. agencies in Syria and their local partners could not handle the humanitarian crisis alone and that she would continue to lobby the government to allow in more aid workers and organizations.
“What I would like to see is the government extending that facility to other large NGOs from the international community who we know can really help to scale up the efforts significantly.
“I have not been able to get that agreed,” she said.
Damascus has dragged its heels in the past at the prospect of allowing non-governmental organizations into the country, which has been convulsed by an increasingly vicious conflict since March 2011.
“The government has a concern that the assistance will reach, in their terms, armed groups or terrorists. This issue was raised with me in every single conversation that I had with a government minister,” Amos said.
“I continue to lobby the government to be more flexible in its approach to humanitarian operations. There is no reason why ordinary Syrians should not receive as much help as is practically possible.”
Amos added that funding shortages were already preventing the UN from carrying out necessary relief work and urged international donors and partners to step up their assistance.
“Funding too is holding us back. There is more we could be doing right now in areas that are safe enough and where we have established solid partnerships with NGOs and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent,” Amos said.
A Syrian watchdog says more than 23,000 people have died since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad erupted 17 months ago.
Apart from those displaced within Syria, the U.N. says at least 157,600 people have fled to neighboring countries, based on those registered, while residents of conflict zones are reporting acute shortages of food, power and medical supplies.