8384th Security Council Meeting: Situation in Middle East

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29-Oct-2018 01:54:58
Despite reduced hostilities in Syria, millions still need access to aid, top humanitarian affairs official tells Security Council at 8384th meeting.

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Despite recent reductions in hostilities in parts of Syria — and some acceleration of humanitarian aid delivery — the United Nations and its partners still lack comprehensive access to millions more in need of assistance, the Organization’s senior humanitarian affairs official told the Security Council in a briefing today.

Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, welcomed the “glimmer of hope” that has emerged in the weeks since the Russian Federation and Turkey reached an agreement to prevent a military assault on Idlib Governorate. Emphasizing that it is critical to keep that agreement in place — or risk triggering humanitarian suffering “on a scale that would overwhelm all ability to respond” — he said the United Nations and its partners, over the first seven months of 2018, had reached an average of 5.5 million people per month in Syria.

While many of those reached were in areas recently returned to Government control, the United Nations still lacks sustained access to some parts, he said. Meanwhile, cross-border operations from Turkey continue to reach hundreds of thousands of people. In the Rukban refugee camp on the Syria-Jordan border — where the desperate population has not received any assistance since January — humanitarian partners are preparing to undertake a large delivery of assistance to 50,000 people, vaccinations for some 10,000 children and a rapid needs assessment. Among several priorities for the Council to take on board, he urged members to renew the humanitarian modalities laid out in resolution 2165 (2014) and help finance Syria’s Humanitarian Response Plan, which remains less than 50 per cent funded.

As Council members took the floor, several speakers voiced their support for Mr. Lowcock’s requests and urged all parties in Syria to abide by international humanitarian law. Some delegates also underscored the vital importance of cross‑border aid and immediate access to the Rukban camps, while calling for unimpeded humanitarian access and for all parties to prioritize the protection of civilians.

France’s representative joined others in expressing concern over attacks on hospitals and other civilian facilities, which he said could amount to war crimes. He warned that the standards required for the mass return of refugees to Syrian towns and cities have not been met. Policies which made such returns dangerous must end. In addition, all convoys must be permitted to move safely across the country in line with international law. Voicing particular concern over Rukban, the north-west of the country and other areas that will now face winter unprepared, he echoed other speakers in demanding the renewal of cross-border access and the swift convening of a constitutional committee in order to being earnest work on a political solution to the conflict.

The representative of the Netherlands declared: “It cannot be tolerated that civilians continue to be collectively punished by the regime for living in former opposition-led areas.” The Government cannot be allowed to continue interfering in the delivery of life-saving aid, he added, arguing that “hard-to-reach-areas” are only hard to reach because of bureaucratic barriers imposed by the Syrian regime. Welcoming the convoy to Rukban, he called on the parties to reach solutions that respect the dignity of those trapped there. Echoing other speakers, he said the Syrian Government’s calls for the return of refugees — along with the provision of reconstruction aid — remain premature.

In contrast, the Russian Federation’s delegate drew attention to his country’s efforts to assist the return of refugees to their homes in Syria. Noting that the demilitarization zone agreement reached in Idlib is holding successfully, he nevertheless expressed concern over reports of suspicious movements by members of Nusrah Front, as well as the White Helmet group, with toxic substances in and around the Governorate. Meanwhile, operations to counter terrorist groups have not been taken off the table and the Russian Federation will fully support Syria’s right to take action against those actors, if necessary. Expressing hope that the constitutional committee will convene swiftly — given the right circumstances — he also warned against imposing external ultimatums or extreme deadlines in that process.

Syria’s representative said it is in bad taste that certain Western delegations are mixing politics with humanitarian aid by setting conditions for its delivery in Syria, even as the Coalition’s aircraft and terrorists continue to attack civilians. Underlining the need for transparent dialogue on the humanitarian situation — especially in conveying accurate information and preventing United Nations reports from being used for pressure and blackmail — he said those reports must take into account the continuing terrorist threats being faced in Syria. Such information, provided by his Government, is unfortunately being ignored by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In addition, he cautioned that cross-border assistance is not only ineffective, but can also be diverted to support terrorists.

At the meeting’s outset, the Council observed a minute of silence in honour of the 11 victims killed in an armed attack on a synagogue in the United States city of Pittsburgh on 27 October. Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz (Bolivia), Council President for October, condemned the attack against innocent people who were targeted at their place of worship and expressed the Council’s deepest condolences to the victims’ families and the people and Government of the United States.

Council members also expressed their condolences to the families of the victims of an airplane crash off the coast of Indonesia this morning.

Also speaking were representatives of Kuwait, United States, Equatorial Guinea, United Kingdom, Poland, Kazakhstan, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Ethiopia, Peru and Sweden.

The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 11:56 a.m.
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