Growing Military Clashes in Syria’s North-West De-escalation Zone Threaten 3 Million, United Nations Humanitarian Official Tells Security Council

Damascus Representative Says Thousands of Aid Convoys Have Entered Country, Disputes Number Reported by Emergency Response Agency

Escalating military clashes and renewed air strikes in north west Syria � especially Idlib Governorate, covered under an international de escalation zone agreement � represent a worrying trend, threatening some 3 million residents as well as the already fragile delivery of aid, a senior United Nations humanitarian official told the Security Council today.

John Ging, Director of Operations and Advocacy for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, introducing findings laid out in the Secretary General’s report (document S/2018/777), said recent weeks have seen a further serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation in north west Syria. On 10 August, air strikes in western Aleppo reportedly killed 41 civilians and wounded more than 70. On the same day, bombs were dropped in southern Idlib, killing 12 civilians, and on 12 August 67 people were reported killed when a weapons depot exploded in rural Idlib. The same period also saw reports of attacks against health facilities and other civilian infrastructure.

Noting that aid partners are finalizing a comprehensive readiness plan for the Syria’s north west, he nevertheless said some 2.1 million people remain in need in areas under the control of non State armed groups. Meanwhile, unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices continue to pose threats to returnees and humanitarian personnel across the country. Syria remains among the most dangerous countries in the world for humanitarian workers, he stressed, adding that the Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock is in Damascus today to engage with the Government on how best to scale up the collective humanitarian response. The Council’s engagement remains critical to ensuring de escalation and safe humanitarian access, he added.

Council members, taking the floor following the briefing, expressed concern over the plight of the Syrian people and support for the humanitarian workers risking their lives to reach those in need. However, opinions diverged on the number of aid convoys entering Syria in recent months, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and reports that a chemical weapons attack against civilians may be imminent.

Sweden’s representative, also speaking on behalf of Kuwait as the penholder countries on the issue, said the last two weeks have seen attacks on education and health care facilities in and around Idlib. Citing with regret the lack of implementation of Council resolution 2401 (2018) � which demanded humanitarian pauses in hostilities � he urged all parties to abide by the de escalation agreement. Syrian authorities must be compelled to do more to ensure humanitarian access. He also recalled that a recent assessment by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found that the conditions needed for Syrian refugees to return home safely are not yet in place, and called on the authorities to create them.

Ethiopia’s delegate declared: We should all have only one agenda � to end the continued and enormous suffering of the Syrian people. Noting that the Secretary General’s report no longer categorizes any area in Syria as besieged, she said that while the return of refugees and internally displaced persons in some parts of country can be seen as a positive trend, humanitarian need remains high. The delivery of aid must not be impeded. Expressing concern that any military escalation in Idlib and surrounding areas might further aggravate the humanitarian crisis, she called on Council members � particularly those with influence over local actors � to play a constructive role in avoiding military measures that could impact civilians.

France’s representative echoed that sentiment, joining others in expressing concern over warning signs of a large military escalation in northern Syria. Urging the international community to discourage Syria’s Government from escalating tensions, she emphasized the need for complete, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, expressing regret that no real progress has been made in recent months. This is both insufficient and unacceptable, she said, underscoring the importance of cross border aid deliveries and expressing concern that displaced persons are still unable to return.

The representative of the Russian Federation said the situation has stabilized in many areas of Syria, marked by the fact that displaced persons and refugees are returning home. Citing various positive developments, including infrastructure repair projects, he expressed concern over UNHCR’s passive role in Syria, undermining efforts on the ground. That approach, advocated by key Western countries, is being applied by the Secretariat, for some reason, and must be revised immediately. Emphasizing that double standards do nothing to enhance credibility, he said the United States has illegally created an airbase in southern Syria close to a refugee camp. To make a show of being humane to an audience is not necessary, he insisted. What is necessary is concrete assistance.

Syria’s delegate disputed the number of humanitarian aid convoys reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as having entered his country, noting that thousands of convoys � not just four, as the Agency claimed � had reached people in need. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs only counted its own aid deliveries, and not those of other organizations. Meanwhile, certain Council members continue their policies of aggression and are preparing yet another staged chemical weapon attack � employing the so called white helmet group � as a way to occupy parts of Syria. Condemning the recent joint statement by the United States, United Kingdom and France, he said his Government has always viewed the use of chemical weapons as abhorrent and long ago destroyed its stockpiles in the Mediterranean. Allegations to the contrary are again being used to justify further aggression against Syria.

Also speaking today were representatives of Peru, United States, Bolivia, Poland, Netherlands, CAte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, China, Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 9:34 a.m. and ended at 11:16 a.m.

Briefing

JOHN GING, Director of Operations and Advocacy for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that recent weeks have seen a serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation in north west Syria. On 10 August, air strikes in western Aleppo were reported to have killed 41 civilians and wounded more than 70. On the same day, bombs were dropped in southern Idlib, killing 12 civilians, and on 12 August, 67 people were reported killed when a weapons depot exploded in rural Idlib. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also reported that three health facilities it supports were attacked, rendering two of them out of service.

Noting that humanitarian organizations are drawing on cross border assistance deliveries, he said 680,999 people received food delivered from Turkey in July alone, while aid partners are finalizing a comprehensive Readiness Plan for areas in the north west. All in all, some 2.1 million people required aid in areas under the control of non State armed groups. In the south west, the Government had regained control over the vast majority of Dara’a, Qunaitra and As Sweida Governorates. Amid efforts to scale up protection and basic services, and undertake more detailed needs assessments, sustained and expanded humanitarian access across south west is critical. Unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices continue to pose risks for returnees and humanitarian personnel, he stressed.

In Deir ez Zor, fighting in the eastern part of the governorate displaced a reported 20,000 civilians to makeshift camps between July and the beginning of August, he said. Many sites hosting new arrivals are not accessible to humanitarian organizations present in the area. Returns to eastern Ghouta are reported to have continued, but limited access to the area has delayed the scaling up of aid. Calling Syria among the most dangerous countries in the world for humanitarian workers, he said the Emergency Relief Coordinator is in Damascus today to engage the Government on how best to scale up the collective humanitarian response. The Council’s engagement remains critical to ensuring a de escalation of violence and safe humanitarian access. While humanitarian organizations are doing what they can with the resources they have, a worst case scenario in Idlib will overwhelm capacities and has the potential to create a humanitarian emergency at a scale not yet seen.

Statements

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden), also speaking on behalf of Kuwait as the penholder countries, said the Council is meeting amid alarming signs of a pending military offensive in north west Syria. The last two weeks have seen attacks on education and health care facilities and there have been 38 reported attacks against health centres in Idlib since the start of 2018. All parties must protect civilians and civilian objects; comply with the principles of distinction and proportionality; refrain from attacking civilian areas or using them for military purposes; and respect and protect humanitarian and medical personnel. Citing with regret the lack of implementation of Council resolution 2401 (2018), he urged all parties to abide by the de escalation agreement in Idlib and called on the Astana guarantors to uphold their commitments. The Syrian authorities must be compelled to do more to ensure humanitarian access.

In military operations to retake control of Syria’s south west, he said indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling is frequently used and the abduction of women and children by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) has been seen. Expressing support for full accountability and the work of the Commission of Inquiry and the Independent Investigative Mechanism, he noted that an assessment by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found that the conditions needed for Syrian refugees to return are not yet in place. Authorities must create the conditions required for their safe and dignified return, he said, reiterating support for a United Nations facilitated political solution in line with resolution 2254 (2015).

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said humanitarian assistance is being provided in only a limited way across Syria, including in Idlib. The fight against terrorism must never be used to justify violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, he stressed, noting that attacks in Idlib could lead to massive new flows of refugees. He expressed concern over the fate of some 5 million refugees and internally displaced persons, who have the legal right to return in a safe and dignified manner. Underlining the importance of cross border assistance in the delivery of humanitarian aid, he said a political solution based on resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communique remains critical. Syria’s reconstruction will ultimately depend on such a solution, he said, calling for a climate of peace and moderation, as well as full support for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

KELLEY A. ECKELS-CURRIE (United States) expressed concern about the possible effects of further military operations in Idlib, particularly with military support from the Russian Federation. Given available technology, there is no excuse for attacks against medical facilities and other civilian infrastructure, she stressed, adding that such attacks only add to the lies and crimes that have defined the conflict over the last seven years. Unless the Astana guarantors do their part, civilians will have nowhere to turn. Expressing concern that the Syrian regime would once again use chemical weapons against its people, she said the United States, France and the United Kingdom are committed to responding appropriately to any such attacks. Despite the UNHCR assessment that conditions are not yet in place for the safe return of refugees, Syria’s regime has invited refugees around the world to return home, placing millions in peril. The United States is the leading humanitarian donor in Syria, with aid reaching 4 million Syrians every month. She recommended that the Russian Federation and its Syrian partners adhere to all Council resolutions related to civilian protection, and the safe, unimpeded delivery of aid. A political solution that leads to a peaceful transition of power is the only way forward, she asserted.

VERA�NICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) called on relevant parties to cease hostilities, reiterating alarm over possible humanitarian consequences in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. In July alone, the population in Idlib was estimated at 4.2 million people. We must avoid any escalation that could cause a humanitarian disaster there, she added. Dialogue and cooperation are more effective than violence, she stressed, condemning all indiscriminate attacks against civilian establishments. All parties must abide by international law and civilian areas must never be targeted for attack. Lasting and sustainable peace can be achieved only by adhering to international law, including international humanitarian law. She encouraged humanitarian agencies to continue their delivery of food, water, and hygiene and sanitation supplies, underscoring the importance of providing women’s health services and psychosocial support to children.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) expressed strong support for the Syrian led, Syrian owned inclusive political process being carried out under United Nations auspices in Geneva. Condemning the intensification of military operations, she called for an immediate end to the violence in south western Syria. Military operations � resulting in civilian deaths and the destruction of schools and hospitals � must stop. She expressed concern that more than half a million people were displaced to and within Idlib Governorate in the past six months, mostly in eastern Ghouta, Homs and Yarmouk. Calling on parties with some influence on the ground to take all necessary measures to achieve a full cessation of hostilities, she stressed the importance of maintaining Council unity on the urgency of Syria’s situation.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), calling for an end to the violence, expressed concern over the warning signs of a large military escalation in northern Syria. Civilians must be protected and she urged the international community to discourage Syria’s Government from escalating tensions. She stressed the need for complete, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, expressing regret that no real progress has been made in recent months. This is both insufficient and unacceptable, she emphasized, underscoring the importance of cross border aid deliveries and expressing concern that displaced persons are still unable to return to Syria. The humanitarian situation will be resolved only through concerted and targeted international efforts. Without a real political transition in Syria, European Union nations will be unable to finance the reconstruction, she said, calling for a Constitutional overhaul that guarantees the rights of the Syrian people.

KAREL J.G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) urged Syrian authorities and the Astana guarantors to prevent an escalation of violence in Idlib and to work towards a negotiated solution at the upcoming Istanbul conference. Emphasizing that Syria is not a safe country to return to, he stressed the need for a safe environment that will allow refuges to return home in safety and dignity. He expressed serious concern over Syria’s law number 10, which appears to be an attempt to create new demographic realities on the ground. He went on to voice support for a United Nations facilitated political solution in line with Council resolution 2254 (2015), stating that there will be no reconstruction support for Syria so long as a political transition remains elusive.

HOUADJA LA�ON ADOM (CAte d’Ivoire) said the humanitarian pause called for in resolution 2401 (2018) has regrettably not materialized. Despite the Council’s many pressing calls, clashes continue, and have even escalated in some areas, contributing to a further deterioration of Syria’s humanitarian crisis. Aid workers who risk their lives to deliver aid encounter obstacles in their work. Welcoming cross border delivery of humanitarian assistance that has reached 3.3 million people, he said belligerent parties are obliged to adhere to all humanitarian and human rights laws. All actors should fully cooperate with the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism so the perpetrators of serious crimes in Syria could be brought to justice under international law. Citing the joint humanitarian mission conducted by the Russian Federation and France as an excellent model of cooperation, he urged the Council to consider similar forms of cooperation in the provision of health care and education.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), joining others in condemning heinous attacks in areas in and around Idlib, said all parties to the conflict are bound by international law. The threat of an upsurge in violence in that densely populated area will threaten an estimated 3 million people living there, while also impacting humanitarian aid delivery. All parties on the ground, and all those with influence over them, must do everything in their power to protect civilians and bring the long standing conflict to an end. In addition, he expressed hope that the upcoming donor meeting will bring a new impetus to Syria’s reconstruction efforts.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia), noting that the Secretary General’s report no longer categorizes any area in Syria as besieged, said that while the return of refugees and internally displaced persons in some parts of country can be seen as a positive trend, humanitarian need remains high. The United Nations and its partners should be supported by all parties to reach Syrians in need and the delivery of aid must not be impeded. Expressing concern that any military escalation in Idlib and surrounding areas might further aggravate the humanitarian crisis, she recalled that the city is among Syria’s de escalation zones under the purview of the Astana guarantors. The Council, particularly members with influence over local actors, should play a constructive role in avoiding military measures that could impact civilians. We should all have only one agenda � to end the continued and enormous suffering of the Syrian people, she stressed. All efforts should be made to accelerate a Syrian owned comprehensive political solution facilitated by the United Nations, aimed at ending the humanitarian tragedy.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said the escalation of the humanitarian situation in Idlib must be avoided. Many people in the region are internally displaced, already requiring assistance. Some 2 million Syrians have been displaced by the war, while countless homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed. He stressed the need for unhindered and guaranteed humanitarian access. Relevant humanitarian resolutions have yet to have a tangible impact on people’s lives and history will remember the Council’s inability to effectively address the humanitarian situation in Syria. Greater diplomatic efforts must lead to a solution approved by all stakeholders, as well as preserve Syria’s unity and sovereignty.

YAO SHAOJUN (China) said parties in Syria must adhere to Council resolutions and alleviate people’s suffering. Citing the return of displaced persons, he said people must be given hope to return, yet terrorist organizations continue to threaten Syrian security forces. The international community must enhance cooperation to combat all terrorist groups in order to maintain regional stability and security. It must also support a political settlement based on a Syrian led and Syrian owned approach, he said, recalling that China has boosted its humanitarian assistance to and reconstruction efforts in Syria.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said that, to prevent a further deterioration of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the United Nations must have safe, sustained and unimpeded access to people in need throughout the country, including across conflict lines and in areas that have recently changed control. The political negotiation process is difficult, he said, stressing however that diplomacy is the art of possible. The international community must not lose hope that a political agreement will soon be achieved, not only between parties to the conflict but also between the main players involved. A most pressing issue is the return of internally displaced persons to their homes, and that of Syrian refugees in other countries to their homeland. State institutions must be preserved, as the destruction of statehood or attempts at forcible change will only add to the chaos.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that in many areas of Syria, the situation has stabilized, marked by the fact that displaced persons and refugees are returning home. He noted various positive developments, saying that 380 kilometres of road, 72 water supply stations and two oil wells have been repaired, while work is under way to restore schools, bakeries, pumping stations, medical institutions and 500 residential buildings. Moreover, the Russian Federation has set up a centre to process refugees and displaced persons returning to Syria from abroad. Starting in July, more than 9,000 refugees have returned, mostly from Lebanon and Jordan, he said, expressing concern over UNHCR’s rather passive role in Syria, which undermines efforts on the ground. That approach is advocated by key Western countries and applied by the Secretariat, for some reason. It must be revised immediately. Why is it that the United Nations refugee agency provided assistance to the ‘white helmets’ but not to every day Syrians returning home? he asked.

Stressing that double standards do not enhance the credibility of the international community, he said the United States has illegally created an airbase in southern Syria close to a refugee camp. There, hundreds of terrorists feel safe to roam free and carry out raids on neighbouring areas. This runs counter to the United States’ claim that its military is in Syria only to combat ISIL/ Da’esh. To make a show of being humane to an audience is not necessary, he insisted. What is necessary is concrete assistance. He called comical remarks by his counterpart from the United Kingdom, delivered prior to today’s meeting, that his country’s Ministry of Defence was covering up for Syria to carry out a chemical weapons attack. Syrian armed forces do not have chemical weapons. People in their right minds would not use military means of zero purpose to risk reprisal from three major countries, he observed, saying instead that Western countries are supporting Nusrah Front and other terrorist groups.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), Council President for August, said none of the achievements listed by her Russian counterpart are helping the people of Idlib. She echoed remarks by delegates from the United States and France, underscoring that the United Kingdom would respond accordingly if the Assad regime again uses chemical weapons. The shelling of schools and bombings of hospitals demonstrate exactly why the situation is not right for Syrians to return home. If the status quo remains, there will not be a Marshall Plan or a Brussels plan for Syria, she asserted, instead pointing to a Moscow or a [Vladimir] Putin plan. The Russian Federation Ministry of Defence today gave a briefing in which it stated that the United Kingdom and the white helmets are preparing chemical attacks against the Syrian people. Even by the egregious standards of Russian propaganda, this claim takes them to another level. She refuted any allegation that the United Kingdom Government or armed forces engage with any terrorists in Syria. Such a claim may well be a pre emptive attempt to set a narrative or smoke screen for an appalling chemical attack by the Syrian regime.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), responding to questions and comments about possible future chemical weapons attacks and the delivery of humanitarian aid, said his Government approved hundreds of aid delivery requests in recent months. As a result, thousands of convoys have arrived and delivered much needed aid, but the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs only counts its own convoys and does not recognize other deliveries. Pointing to a huge elephant in this room, he said certain Council members fail to recognize their own legal responsibilities in the wake of the long and terrible war against terrorist forces in Syria. Instead, they continue their policies of aggression and are preparing yet another staged chemical weapon attack � using the so called white helmet group � as a way to occupy parts of Syria.

Condemning the recent joint statement by the United States, United Kingdom and France, he said Syria has always viewed the use of chemical weapons as abhorrent and lived up to its obligations in that regard. All its chemical stockpiles had been destroyed long ago in the Mediterranean. Syria no longer possesses any such weapons. In contrast to that reality, he said allegations of chemical weapons attacks by the State are used by some parties to justify further aggression against Syria. Calling on all those with influence over ISIL/Da’esh and Nusrah Front to exert it as soon as possible, he cautioned that what goes around comes around.

Source: United Nations

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