Humanitarian conditions worsen in Syria as more civilians killed

The Washington Post reports: The top United Nations humanitarian official, making his first trip to Syria, said in Damascus on Monday that he was “absolutely horrified” at conditions there and “by the total disregard for civilian life by all parties.”

While Stephen O’Brien, the ­undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, did not single out specific combatant groups for blame, he was particularly critical of airstrikes that killed as many as 100 civilians Sunday in the central market area of Douma, a Damascus suburb.

The remark appeared to be aimed at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose military is the only force based in Syria with access to air power.

Beyond the human toll, O’Brien said the civil war also has destroyed historic sites in Syria on a massive scale. He said that during his three-day trip he had visited the city of Homs, “where almost every home” in the Old City “had been completely destroyed.”

O’Brien’s visit was designed not only to call attention to the crisis in Syria, but also to put new pressure on U.N. members to close shortfalls in the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Contributions so far this year amount to less than a third of the funds needed to provide for victims, said O’Brien, who described the ongoing attacks on civilian areas as “appalling.”

“We cannot scale up our operations to reach more people if we do not have adequate resources,” said O’Brien, who took over the job from longtime U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos in June.

More than half of Syria’s 22 million people have either fled the country or been internally displaced from their homes in the still-expanding war, according to U.N. figures. O’Brien said that at least a quarter-million people had been killed, with more than a million injured. [Continue reading…]

Reporting on Syrian state media’s coverage of O’Brien’s remarks, Robert Mackey notes: While his criticism was evenhanded — he also condemned the conduct of rebel groups — and made headlines around the world, Syrians who rely on state television for their news heard none of his harsh words about their government’s conduct of the war. Edited video of Mr. O’Brien’s remarks posted on YouTube by the official Syrian Arab News Agency, or Sana, simply faded to black just before he described the attack on Douma.

A look at a transcript of his remarks released by the United Nations shows that Mr. O’Brien’s description of the devastation he witnessed in the Old City of Homs, a former rebel stronghold, was also omitted by the Syrian state broadcaster. [Continue reading…]

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