The U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved a resolution demanding that Syria immediately halt attacks on civilians and allow unfettered humanitarian access to besieged areas and across neighboring borders, threatening unspecified "further steps" if the government does not comply.
The action marked the first time Russia has agreed to a binding resolution against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime since the conflict in his country began nearly three years ago. China, which vetoed three previous resolutions along with Russia, joined in approving the measure.
To secure Russia's agreement, sponsors of the resolution agreed to include specific demands for opposition fighters to cease their own violations of human rights international law, to condemn terrorism and to drop a demand that government violators be referred for prosecution to the International Criminal Court.
Russia had sharply criticized the initial measure. But U.S. officials said they still were prepared to push it to force Moscow — currently in the international spotlight during the Sochi Olympics — to take a position on the human carnage in Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the resolution "could be a hinge-point in the tortured three years of a Syria crisis bereft of hope." But he said that while it is a resolution of "concrete steps," they were only first steps and that demanding access means little without full implementation.
The United States and other strong advocates acknowledged a lack of specific enforcement tools in the resolution, which instructs U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to report back on compliance within 30 days. But U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power and others noted that the threat of "further steps" is far stronger than language in previous, vetoed measures and said it commits the council to take action.