UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. Security Council united for the first time on a resolution on Syria's humanitarian crisis Saturday, demanding that President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition provide immediate access everywhere in the country to deliver aid to millions of people in desperate need.
The fate of the Western and Arab-backed resolution rested with Russia, Syria's closest ally, and China, another supporter.
After two weeks of negotiations and a watering-down of the original text, they decided to join the rest of the 15-member council in sending a strong message, especially to the Assad government, that food, medicine and other essentials must not be blocked to civilians caught in the three-year conflict.
"Today the council has finally shown that whatever its political differences over Syria, it was not entirely indifferent to the devastating humanitarian crisis," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said after the vote.
According to the United Nations, 9.3 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance and 6.8 million have fled their homes but remain in the country.
The resolution does not threaten sanctions - Russia insisted that this reference be dropped from the original text. Instead, it asks Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report to the council every 30 days on implementation and expresses the council's intention to take "further steps" if the resolution's demands aren't fulfilled.
All Security Council resolutions are legally binding, but what remains to be seen is whether this resolution has an impact on the ground, especially since it doesn't have real "teeth."
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos expressed hope in a statement that it "will facilitate the delivery of aid to people in desperate need in Syria."
Calling the resolution a "long overdue" measure "to alleviate the worst humanitarian crisis of this generation," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said that as hard as it was to win council approval, the harder issue is implementation.
"The world now needs to stand united on behalf of implementation so that there are no more broken promises, no more delays, no more coupling minor concessions with cruel and shameless attacks on civilians," Power said.
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said implementation "depends on the goodwill of the Syrian regime and the opposition."
If the resolution's demands aren't fulfilled, he said, France will propose "further measures."
The resolution demands that all parties, especially the Syrian government, "promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered access ... across conflict lines and across borders" for humanitarian aid, and it calls on both sides "to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas."
It demands that all parties "cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival." It also demands a halt to all attacks against civilians, including indiscriminate shelling and aerial attacks using barrel bombs in populated areas.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council immediately after the vote that the resolution "should not have been necessary" because "humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated - it is something to be allowed by virtue of international law."
"Half the country's people need urgent assistance," he said. "Host countries need support in caring for more than 2.5 million refugees."
The U.N. chief said it is "profoundly shocking ... that both sides are besieging civilians as a tactic of war."
"Some 200,000 people are under siege in government-controlled areas - and 45,000 in opposition-controlled areas," Ban said.