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(photo credit: REUTERS)
GENEVA - The rebel-held north of Syria remains largely out of reach to aid operations, even though they have been stepped up elsewhere in the country torn by civil war, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said on Tuesday.
"We are watching a humanitarian tragedy unfold before our eyes," Amos told a news briefing. "We must do all we can to reassure the people that we care and that we will not let them down."
Syrian opposition representatives told the UN this week that some three million people living throughout rebel-held territory require international assistance, she said.
The Syrian government still refuses to allow UN convoys to cross from Turkey into northern Syria, as most border crossings are controlled by the Free Syrian Army, she said.
Four million Syrians were deemed in need of aid late last year, but the situation has deteriorated since due to shelling, inflation, and shortages of food and medicine, she said.
Some 70,000 people have been killed in the nearly two-year-old revolt against President Bashar Assad that has also sent 860,000 refugees fleeing abroad, according to the world body.
Typhoid has broken out in an rebel-held Deir al-Zor due to people drinking contaminated water from the Euphrates River, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
In the last few weeks, the UN refugee agency reached rebel-held Azaz with aid for the first time. WHO has delivered vaccines in many opposition-held areas, Amos said.
"Cross-line operations are difficult but they are do-able.
"We are crossing conflict lines, negotiating with armed groups on the ground to reach more in need. But we are not reaching enough of those who require our help. Limited access in the north is a problem that can only solved using alternative methods of aid delivery," Amos said.
She held talks with Suhair Atassi, a vice president of the opposition Syrian National Council, on Monday. Syrian deputy foreign minister Hossam Eddin attended the closed-door Geneva forum on Tuesday but opposed the rebels taking part, she said.
The Syrian government has agreed that 3 more international agencies could deploy aid workers - Mercy Corps, NRC and Merlyn - bringing the total to 11, but still not enough, Amos said.
"With respect to the Turkish border, I have spoken to the (Syrian) government on a number of occasions about allowing us to bring in supplies across that border. My last conversation with them was yesterday. The answer remains no," Amos said.
The UN must uphold General Assembly resolutions requiring consent of a government to allow relief goods to be imported, unless authorised by a Security Council resolution, she said.