UN finally backs resolution calling for aid convoys to be granted access across war-torn Syria
US welcomes "overdue" vote but fears move will be toothless as Damascus will face no sanctions
The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for humanitarian aid convoys to be allowed access across war-torn Syria, but diplomats immediately voiced doubt about its effectiveness.
Syria's staunch ally Russia, with support from China, had blocked three previous resolutions aimed at pressuring the Damascus regime since the crisis began in March 2011, with an estimated half of all Syrians urgently awaiting immediate help.
But Moscow and Beijing, two of the five permanent Security Council members, did not do so this time, sending a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose administration is accused of serious rights violations in attempting to cling on to power.
The resolution will not, however, trigger automatic sanctions against Syria if it fails to comply.
The resolution, which also criticises the dropping of barrel bombs by government aircraft, was drafted by Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg and had the backing of Britain, France and the United States, the other permanent Security Council members.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the move on Saturday, but said the resolution "should not have been necessary".
"Some 200,000 people are under siege in government-controlled areas - and 45,000 in opposition-controlled areas," he added.
The text of the resolution, which was the subject of fierce negotiations between Moscow and the West and condemns terror attacks in Syria, calls for "all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas … and other locations".
The humanitarian situation in Syria, where more than 140,000 people have been killed in the nearly three-year war and millions more forced to flee their homes, "continues to deteriorate", he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the resolution was "overdue" and that, if fully implemented, would save lives.
However, some diplomats doubt the effectiveness of the resolution in the absence of automatic sanctions should Damascus refuse to let aid convoys have access to all areas, including those hit hardest.
"Half the country's people need urgent assistance. Host countries need support in caring for more than 2.5 million refugees," said Ban.
Western members of the Security Council have been mulling a humanitarian resolution for a year. After months of difficult talks, the council adopted a non-binding statement on October 2 urging more access to aid, but that statement produced little except administrative progress.
Moscow's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Russian haggling had resulted in a resolution "of a balanced nature".