Updated 2/22, 3:50 EST
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously for the first time Saturday to resolve Syria’s humanitarian crisis, demanding that the opposition and President Bashar Assad’s government provide access to humanitarian aid and deliver aid to millions of civilians across the country.
The resolution mandates both sides, but particularly Assad’s regime, to allow food, medicine and other essentials to reach besieged civilians, hundreds of thousands of whom are starving and lack medical aid after three years of brutal conflict. Russia and China had repeatedly opposed Security Council resolutions urging Assad to change course, but backed the current resolution.
Russia, Assad’s strongest supporter, insisted that the threat of sanctions for non-compliance be dropped from the resolution, reports the Associated Press, but the resolution does say the council will take “further steps” if the resolution isn’t implemented.
“This could be a hinge-point in the tortured three years of a Syria crisis bereft of hope,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “This is all about saving innocent lives and relieving the burden on Syria’s neighboring countries.”
Some 200,000 Syrian civilians have been besieged in government-controlled territory, and 45,000 in opposition territory, where they face killings, torture, starvation, and bombings. Assad’s government has bombed civilian areas with barrels filled with powerful explosives, according to human rights activists, who said the death toll in the country has reached well over 100,000.
“This resolution should not have been necessary,” said United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon in a statement Saturday. “Humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated; it is something to be allowed by virtue of international law.”
Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom, William Hague, said the resolution is an important step in providing aid to millions of Syrians, and called upon the Assad regime to cease indiscriminate bombing in Syria.
“The adoption of this resolution, on the initiative of the UK and our close partners, sends a clear message that the Assad regime cannot be allowed to starve hundreds of thousands of its own people into submission,” he said. “We will not hesitate to return to the Security Council if the Assad regime fails to meet the demands in this resolution.”
This story has been updated to include comments on the resolution by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Additional reporting by Jay Newton-Small