UNITED NATIONS • The head of the United Nations (UN) has said the warring parties in Syria were committing war crimes by withholding food from civilians.
He called for all sides to lift their sieges immediately and unconditionally "as a confidence-building gesture" ahead of peace talks scheduled for Jan 25.
The statement came as aid convoys delivered food and medicine for the second time this week to three besieged Syrian towns. UN officials have said that it took more than three months to secure access to the towns, and that many residents, including children, had died of hunger and disease in that time.
"Let me be clear: The use of food as a weapon of war is a war crime," Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said on Thursday in a speech to the General Assembly.
Let me be clear: The use of food asa weapon of war isa war crime.
MR BAN KI MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations
"All sides, including the Syrian government, which has the primary responsibility to protect Syrians, are committing atrocious acts prohibited under international humanitarian law."
The remarks were among the toughest yet on the subject by Mr Ban, who is in the final year of his 10-year term. The UN estimates that about 400,000 Syrians have been denied humanitarian aid because their towns or neighbourhoods are besieged by one side or another in the civil war.
The Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting called by Paris, London and Washington for yesterday to discuss the situation.
Two convoys of trucks reached the besieged towns - Madaya, Fouaa and Kfarya - on Thursday, carrying aid from the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, according to Mr Jens Laerke, a spokesman in Geneva for the UN agency that coordinates humanitarian aid.
Another convoy is expected to be sent to Zabadani, close to the Lebanese border, within a few days, the UN said.
A new round of Syrian negotiations is planned for Jan 25 in Geneva, but there are fears that a diplomatic row between Iran and Saudi Arabia, who back opposing sides in the war, could derail the process.
The head of the UN commission investigating human rights in Syria said the aid workers' reports were consistent with testimony received from people in the besieged areas. The investigators plan to issue a report by the end of the month, said Mr Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the commission.
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE