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12/04/2013 03:43 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Syria's Humanitarian Quagmire Worsens, U.N. Official Reports

BULENT KILIC via Getty Images

GAZIANTEP, Turkey -- In this small Turkish city near Syria's northern border, aid workers complain that the humanitarian disaster unfolding just 45 minutes away feels desperately out of reach.

It's a problem that has plagued efforts to ameliorate one of the biggest consequences of Syria's ongoing civil conflict -- the widespread hunger and lack of medical resources across the war-torn country -- and that threatens to grow worse as winter approaches. Temperatures hovered just above freezing this week, as the third cold season of the crisis looms.

Humanitarian aid intended for Syria faces a number of obstacles, workers and experts say, not least of which is the unpredictable violence and high risk of kidnapping in the rebel-held north, which has made much of northern Syria all but unapproachable for Westerners.

But another obstacle is politics, along with the stumbling blocks of international law, which technically obligate international organizations to deliver aid to any part of Syria -- including that controlled by rebel forces -- via the official channels of the Syrian government.

Doing so, as the United Nations' humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, reminded the U.N. Security Council in a briefing on Tuesday, would require the Syrian government to lift some of its more burdensome restrictions on visas for humanitarian workers and to make good on promises to reduce roadblocks along the roads to the north.

The update Amos delivered was not hopeful. "We have not seen any progress on those," she told reporters Tuesday, after the briefing, according to The New York Times.

By the U.N.'s own count, that means some 250,000 needy civilians inside Syria could not be reached by international aid, Reuters reported. Some parts of the country where fighting has been particularly fierce, including major cities like Damascus and Homs, have not seen food deliveries for six months, the reports said.

Aid and humanitarian groups who work on Syria are raising the alarm. They're calling for a much more robust political and diplomatic effort to compel the Syrian government to permit more aid to flow, including by urging Syrian allies like Iran and Russia to pressure President Bashar Assad's government directly.

"The humanitarian picture the U.N. has painted is among the bleakest we've seen in a generation, and because of the difficulty in tracking those in need, the reality is likely even worse," Ian Bassin, the campaign director at the international aid and advocacy organization Avaaz, told The Huffington Post Wednesday. "If the Iranian opening to the world is truly serious, President [Hassan] Rouhani has a huge opportunity here to push Assad to fully open the flow of aid to all those in need. Syrians are crying out for help, and we cannot turn our backs on them any longer."

On the same day as Amos' latest update, Human Rights Watch released a new report casting blame for the failure of aid dispersal on both sides in the war, but disproportionately on the government. The group said government forces have encircled some rebel-held parts of the country, cutting them off entirely from the outside world.

The instability and violence caused by rebel groups has done little to facilitate alternative means of supplying desperate civilians inside the country.

In his own briefing on Tuesday, the Syrian ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jaafari, argued that the real cause of the humanitarian disaster comes from outside actors like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, who have supported rebel groups during the conflict.

Syria War In December
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