8553rd Security Council Meeting: Situation in Middle East

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18-Jun-2019 01:57:46
Senior political, humanitarian officials warn of ‘unimaginable’ consequences in North-West Syria unless critical players exert pressure on belligerents at 8553rd meeting.

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Senior United Nations officials sounded alarms in the Security Council today over increased fighting in north-west Syria among parties trying to advance their military interests, pointing to “unimaginable” consequences if critical players do not exert the political will needed to end the protracted conflict.

“Our unflagging efforts to mediate a political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people cannot move forward in an environment of open conflict,” the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacekeeping Affairs said as she provided an update on current events.

Despite air strikes continuing unabated, barrel bombing, use of cluster munitions and exchanges of mortar and artillery fire — all of which have caused massive civilian displacement — the front lines have hardly shifted, she continued. While welcoming efforts by the Russian Federation and Turkey to contain the violence, she warned of “unimaginable” consequences if a solution is not found. Syria’s recent shelling of Turkish observation posts, and the subsequent retaliation, are indeed military exchanges that illustrate how fighting in Idlib threatens regional security.

She called on all international stakeholders to exert their utmost efforts to end the violence. For Moscow, the presence in the de-escalation area of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham — which the Council designates as a terrorist group — is not tolerable. For Turkey, time is required to effectively isolate and address that group’s most hard-line fighters.

Describing an unfolding humanitarian crisis, the Emergency Relief Coordinator said the last six weeks have seen more than 230 civilian deaths. Since 1 May, 330,000 people have fled their homes, moving north towards Turkey’s border. Hospitals, schools and markets have been hit and crops have been burned. United Nations humanitarian workers are doing all they can, but the response is stretched. With a significant presence in Idlib, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham is contributing to the suffering, he said, while nonetheless stressing that counter-terrorism efforts cannot absolve States of their obligation to uphold international humanitarian law.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates decried the deteriorating conditions in the north-west. “It seems as if we’re losing the very essence of humanity,” said Germany’s delegate on behalf of Belgium and Kuwait. He expressed alarm over the use of incendiary weapons to destroy farmland. The United Kingdom’s delegate meanwhile asked why hospitals in the de-escalation zone were bombed, citing a clause outlining that the protection of medical facilities may cease only after due warning has been given. “People are being killed but no advantage is being gained militarily,” she said.

The representative of the United States demanded a prompt end to the Assad regime’s reckless escalation in Idlib. He called for pushing ahead with a political transition and urged both Syria and the Russian Federation to abide by the Sochi Memorandum of Understanding to avoid a large-scale military offensive.

On that point, the Russian Federation’s representative said some countries distort the situation in Idlib as a way to prevent Damascus from controlling the territory. The Memorandum of Understanding reached between Moscow and Ankara does not ban, but rather encourages, the fight against terrorism, as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham is attacking Government forces and striking villages near the de-escalation zone.

Turkey’s delegate called for a sophisticated long-term strategy that targets Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s ideology. “Ongoing attacks by the [Syria] regime clearly aim at the collapse of the political process,” he asserted, warning that Turkey will not hesitate to protect its military personnel. Iran’s delegate said the Idlib de-escalation area was created to protect civilians from terrorists, not provide a haven for the latter. He urged the United States to immediately end its illegal presence in Syria.

Rounding out the discussion, Syria’s delegate said all towns in the north-west have been targeted by missiles and rockets, as have the positions of the Syrian and Russian armies. He asked the Council to consider where terrorists get their weapons. Turkey allows Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to commit the most heinous crimes, turning hospitals and schools into military sites and killing anyone who rejects their Islamic ideology.

He disputed claims that 27 hospitals in Idlib were destroyed, insisting that the city has only four facilities. Noting that the United States and European Union are in their eighth year of an export ban of medical supplies to Syria, he accused countries of overlooking war crimes and crimes against humanity to advance their own interests. “Some invest in terrorism to build a partnership against the Syrian State, instead of building a partnership with the Syrian State.”

Also speaking today were representatives of Poland, France, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, South Africa, Peru and China.

The meeting began at 3:31 p.m. and ended at 5:29 p.m.

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