UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday that Syria faces “a living nightmare” 10 years after peaceful demonstrations were violently suppressed setting the country on “a horrific path” of destruction and bloodshed, and he urged all parties to take a first step toward peace and negotiate a new constitution.

The U.N. chief marked the 10th anniversary of Syria’s conflict that began in mid-March 2011 with a scathing critique of the impact of the war on the Syrian people, saying they “have endured some of the greatest crimes the world has witnessed this century” and “the scale of the atrocities shocks the conscience.”

The war has killed nearly half a million people, wounded more than a million and displaced half the country’s population, including more than 5 million as refugees. Over the past year, the situation has been compounded by a severe economic and financial crisis and the spread of COVID-19 in a country where medical facilities have been hard hit by the conflict.

Guterres said Syrians “have been subjected to human rights violations on a massive and systematic scale,” bombs have hit homes, schools, hospitals and markets, “chemical weapons have caused unspeakable suffering” and civilians have starved in cities under siege.

“Parties have imposed indefensible restrictions on humanitarian aid,” he said, and they have repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, “so far with absolute impunity.”

The secretary-general said some 60 percent of Syrians “are at risk of hunger this year” and he urged greater humanitarian access and deliveries of food and other humanitarian aid across borders and across conflict lines.

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But last July, the Security Council bowed to Russia’s demand and authorized humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria’s mainly rebel-held northwest from Turkey through just one crossing point. Russia, Syria’s most important ally, argued that aid should be delivered from within the country across conflict lines, and just one border crossing was needed, not two which the U.N. and aid groups called critical.

Guterres said the United Nations will continue to pursue a negotiated political settlement to the Syrian conflict based on a Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015 that unanimously endorsed a road map to peace in Syria approved in Geneva on June 30, 2012 by representatives of the United Nations, Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five permanent Security Council members — the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain.

It calls for a Syrian-led political process starting with the establishment of a transitional governing body, followed by the drafting of a new constitution and ending with U.N.-supervised elections. At a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution, which took until September 2019.

U.N. special envoy Geir Pedersen reiterated his disappointment to the council last month that after five rounds of preliminary discussions aimed at revising Syria’s constitution there has been no progress. He hinted that the Syrian government delegation was to blame for the lack of progress.

Guterres said “a first step” on the path to a negotiated political settlement “should be tangible progress in the constitutional committee.”

He said his appeal was especially directed to the Syrian government, to begin substantive discussions on the constitution and move away from procedural issues.

Guterres said the parties have the opportunity “to move beyond a perpetual state of conflict” and find common ground, and the international community must also bridge the current divides “through sustained and robust diplomatic dialogue.”

“Failure to do so will only condemn the Syrian people to more despair,” he warned.