Syria: Senior UN officials urge warring parties in Qusayr to free civilians trapped by fighting

A baby gets some rest in one of the tents put up in Hasiya for the displaced Syrian families. Photo: UNHCR/A. Blazy

1 June 2013 – With fighting raging in Qusayr, western Syria, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and UN human rights head Navi Pillay today called for the protection of civilians and urged that thousands of trapped residents be allowed to flee the city.

In a statement earlier today, his spokesperson said Mr. Ban is “following with the gravest concern” the situation in Qusayr, where fighting has intensified in recent days.

Mr. Ban reminded the Government of its responsibility to protect civilians who come under its control, including from the threat of militias. He also called on the warring parties to allow trapped civilians to flee.

In a separate statement later in the day, Ms. Amos and Ms. Pillay said they were “extremely alarmed” by reports that there as many as 1,500 wounded people in the city in urgent need of immediate evacuation for emergency medical treatment.

“The general situation in Qusayr is desperate,” Ms. Amos and Ms. Pillay said based on information they are receiving.

This includes “reports that civilian neighbourhoods continue to be indiscriminately attacked, and that other major violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are being committed,” according to the statement.

In addition to urging a halt to any actions that threaten civilian lives, the two senior officials reminded the Government and other parties to the conflict that they have an obligation under international human rights and international humanitarian law to protect civilians and allow neutral, impartial humanitarian organizations safe access to all people in need.

“We urge the parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian agencies to evacuate the wounded and provide life-saving treatment and supplies,” they said in the statement.

While it is not known how many people remain trapped in Qusayr, more than ten thousand have already fled to towns in the region including Hasiya and Al-Dumina, where they have sought temporary shelter in schools and unfinished buildings.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) said yesterday at least 700 families – or some 3,500 people – have arrived to Hasiya, a small nearby town with a population of 16,000. They urgently need food, bedding, clean water and medical care.

The siege comes as preparations intensify for an international conference on Syria.

Mr. Ban “reminds all parties to the conflict that the eyes of the world are upon them, and that they will be held accountable for any acts of atrocity carried out against the civilian population of Qusayr,” his spokesperson said in the statement.

Since March 2011, fighting between the Syrian Government and opposition forces seeking to oust President Bashar Al-Assad has killed more than 70,000 people, and left 6.8 million people in need. In addition, the UN estimates that some 1.5 million Syrians have fled their country to escape conflict.


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UN refugee agency assisting Syrians displaced by fighting in Al-Qusair

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