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Russia, China Join Call For Syria To Let U.N. Humanitarian Official Visit

In what Israel's Haaretz.com is referring to as a "rare move" by longtime supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, Russia and China today joined other members of the U.N. Security Council in calling on Syria to let U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos see what's happening inside that nation.

Syria so far has not allowed Amos to visit.

Russia and China had previously vetoed Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring the Assad regime to end its military campaign against opponents — a crackdown that U.N. officials estimate has now claimed at least 7,500 lives.

The Associated Press writes that the Security Council's "press statement ... is not legally binding ... [but] does reflect the growing concern of the council about the impact of the year-old conflict on Syria's civilian population." It's also the Security Council's "first statement on Syria in seven months," the wire service says.

But while joining the Security Council's call for Amos to be allowed into Syria, Russia and China (along with Cuba) today also votedagainst a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that condemns "widespread and systematic" human rights violations by Syrian authorities.

And during testimony on Capitol Hill today, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman had some sharp words for Russia's position. Russia, he said, "has had interest and influence in Syria for a long time. ... Russia is not going to preserve those interests ... if it basically rides the Assad-Makhlouf Titanic all the way to the bottom of the Mediterranean."

The Makhlouf he referred to is Rami Makhlouf, Assad's cousin and Syria's leading businessman.

Update at 2:15 p.m. ET. Text Of The Security Council's "Press Statement":

"The members of the Security Council express their deep disappointment that Ms. Valerie Amos, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, was not granted authorization to visit Syria by the Syrian Government in a timely manner, despite repeated requests and intense diplomatic contacts aimed at securing Syrian approval. The members of the Security Council call upon the Syrian authorities to grant the coordinator immediate and unhindered access.

"The members of the Security Council deplore the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, in particular the growing number of affected civilians, the lack of safe access to adequate medical services, and food shortages, particularly in areas affected by fighting and violence such as Homs, Hama, Deraa, and Idlib.

"The members of the Security Council call upon the Syrian authorities to allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all populations in need of assistance, in accordance with international law and guiding principles of humanitarian assistance. They call upon all parties in Syria, in particular the Syrian authorities, to cooperate fully with the United Nations and relevant humanitarian organizations to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance and allow evacuation of the wounded from affected areas."

(H/T to NPR's Michele Kelemen.)

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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