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Syria’s daily horrors, from famine to rape, described by UN chiefs

Syrian cities have been reduced to rubble. Doctors operate without anesthesia. Children are raped and murdered. House are burned with families inside.

“This is the reality of Syria today,” said Valerie Amos, the top United Nations humanitarian aid official, who testified yesterday to the U.N. Security Council.

Civilians are bombed while waiting in line for bread, she said. Waste is piling up, there is often no running water and, with summer approaching, there is a high risk of an outbreak of cholera. Amos described a country in chaos more than two years into a bloody civil war pitting President Bashar Assad’s regime against rebel forces.

Even so, descriptions of hardships confronting the Syrian people “cannot even begin to give you the real picture of the horrors being meted out every day,” Amos said.

The latest U.N. figures point to 6.8 million people in need. There are 4.25 million displaced people in Syria itself, and 1.3 million refugees who have flooded into neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, Amos said. Syria’s population is 20.8 million, according to the World Bank figures from 2011.

Amos criticized the U.N.’s decision-making body for failing to unite behind a common approach to ending the crisis. Amos has visited Syria four times. Her last visit was in January and an increase in the bureaucratic obstacles placed by the Syrian government have impeded access.

As an example, Amos said there are 50 checkpoints between Damascus and Aleppo, a journey of 193 miles. Twenty visas are pending for aid workers. “We cannot do business this way,” Amos told the 15-nation U.N. body. “I do not have an answer for the Syrians who ask why have we abandoned them.”

Amos dwelt on the fate of children in the conflict.

“I was horrified to hear accounts during my recent visit to Turkey of children dying of hunger” in opposition-held areas near the borders.

“Children are among the ones suffering most,” she said. “They have been murdered, tortured and raped. Many do not have enough to eat.”

Zainab Bangura, the former foreign minister of Sierra Leone who is the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflicts, followed Amos’s accounts by relating the story of a 14-year-old girl who was raped by four men in military uniform. She was beaten with electrical wire, given injections and had cigarettes extinguished on her chest. She was released and fled the country, yet has attempted suicide three times, Bangura told the Security Council.

“Girls are being raped in front of their fathers, wives in front of their husbands,” she said.

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