UNITED NATIONS — The Islamic State group is taking violence against civilians in Syria “to a new level,” threatening the cross-border humanitarian aid operations recently approved by the Security Council, a top U.N. aid official said Thursday.
The U.N.’s deputy humanitarian chief, Kyung-wha Kang, told the council that both the extremists and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front are advancing on border crossings with Turkey “and could hinder additional cross-border operations.”
The threat comes as U.N. humanitarian officials reported the first bit of improvement on getting aid to hard-to-reach people inside Syria, where more than 190,000 people have been killed in the conflict and almost one in two Syrians is either internally displaced or a refugee.
Kang said the death toll is likely “much higher.”
Getting aid to Syrians trapped in the more than three-year conflict has been a challenge, with the Syrian government insisting it approve any shipments. In July, the council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing cross-border delivery of aid to Syrians in rebel-held areas without government approval through four crossings with Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.
Now the Islamic State group’s fighters are threatening two of the three that are operational, at Bab al-Salam and Bab al-Hawa, Kang said.
She also expressed alarm at the group’s “horrific atrocities” in central Syria. She cited local sources as saying that up to 700 members of a tribe accused by the Islamic State group of apostasy have been killed or kidnapped over the past two weeks, “some beheaded or crucified.”
The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, seeks to establish a caliphate in the Middle East and has moved with ease between Syria and neighboring Iraq. U.S. officials have said President Barack Obama is considering whether to expand the U.S. military effort against the group to include airstrikes inside Syria.
The overall conflict in Syria between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad has left more than 240,000 people under siege.
Kang said the past month showed improvement in humanitarian access for the first time in half a year. The U.N. has sent nine shipments of aid into Syria since the council resolution in July through the crossings with Turkey and Jordan, including food assistance for about 69,500 people.
All of the shipments crossed into Syria without incident, Kang said.
Challenges remain in getting more aid into the country, and British Ambassador to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant told reporters after Kang’s briefing that the number being reached with the new cross-border delivery options “is relatively small.”
In a statement, the U.N. representative of the opposition Syrian Coalition, Najib Ghadbian, said: “To bring security and governance to Syria, comprehensive action by members of the Security Council is needed to stop the consequences of the current crisis — the rise of terrorist groups like ISIS — and eliminate its root cause: the Assad dictatorship.”