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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the UN Security Council to reopen border crossings into Syria blocked by Russia, saying world powers should be ashamed by their inaction.
Chairing a virtual Security Council session on Syria, the mild-mannered top US diplomat spoke with clear passion as he voiced outrage at Syrians' continued suffering 10 years into the civil war.
"How is it possible that we can't find in our hearts the common humanity to actually take meaningful action?" said President Joe Biden's top diplomat, recalling his own two children.
"Look into your hearts," he implored. "We have to find a way to do something -- to take action to help people. That is our responsibility. And shame on us if we don't."
Relief supplies into Syria, where most of the population relies on aid, as of July 2020 can enter only one crossing -- Bab al-Hawa on the Turkish border.
Veto-wielding Russia, which is allied with President Bashar al-Assad, successfully opposed other crossings on the grounds that they violate the Damascus government's sovereignty.
"Sovereignty was never intended to ensure the right of any government to starve people, deprive them of life-saving medicine, bomb hospitals or commit any other human rights abuse against citizens," Blinken said.
He pointed to a Russian strike last week near the Bab al-Hawa crossing that disrupted all aid delivery into Syria.
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Vershinin, in his own remarks to the videoconference voiced outrage that Assad's government was not invited to an aid conference on Syria held in Brussels.
"There is a growing politicization of humanitarian aid," he said.
The proposed cross-border aid "violates the principles of international law" and is only because "the government that is in place does not suit" the West, he said.
- 'More pathways' to help -
Blinken called for the reopening of closed crossings at Bab al-Salam, also on the Turkish border, and Al-Yarubiyah on the Iraqi border, saying that they respectively supplied four million and 1.3 million Syrians.
"Let's give ourselves more pathways, rather than fewer pathways, to deliver food and medicine to the Syrian people," Blinken said.
"And let's not pressure Syrian refugees to return until they feel they can do so in safety and in dignity," said Blinken, the stepson of a refugee who has often spoken of the need to protect people.
The border issue is expected to come to a head again in July when the one remaining crossing comes up for renewal by the Security Council.
Blinken called ultimately for a political solution in Syria based on Security Council Resolution 2254, approved unanimously in 2015.
While Russia has essentially declared Assad the victor of the war, the United States and its European allies are adamant that there must be accountability for crimes over a decade of war that has claimed nearly 400,000 lives, caused millions to flee and saw the rise of the Islamic State extremist group.