ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon made an impassioned plea Friday against military action in Syria, warning that it could spark further sectarian violence in a country already suffering from a humanitarian crisis "unprecedented" in recent history.
Speaking at a humanitarian meeting hosted by Britain on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, Ban called on world powers to put aside their differences over the Syrian conflict, and to take concerted action to get desperately needed aid to the population.
"I must warn that ill-considered military action could cause serious and tragic consequences, and with an increased threat of further sectarian violence," Ban said.
About third of Syria's pre-war 20.8 million population has fled abroad or have been forced from their homes during the popular uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime, which is now in its third year, U.N. refugee agency data showed.
"This is a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions in recent history," Ban said.
But "as as some flee the country, others dig in to fight," Ban said, pointing to the need therefore to "avoid further militarization of the conflict and revitalize the search for a political settlement instead."
With a political solution proving elusive as world leaders dig in their heels over their entrenched positions, Ban called for unity in securing humanitarian aid for the population.
A funding shortage was also threatening to leave refugees in neighboring countries with no food, he said, adding that stocks would run out within days in Lebanon and within two weeks in Jordan.
"The world must do everything within its powers to stop the suffering of the Syrian people. Let us use this united recognition of the problem as our starting point for focused and positive action," he said. "Your support in exercising leverage on all parties to facilitate humanitarian access is critical."