8609th Security Council Meeting: Situation in Middle East

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29-Aug-2019 02:37:06
Top officials call for immediate action to ensure ceasefire in North-Western Syria, as Security Council hears briefings on humanitarian situation at 8609th meeting.

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With the delicate political process intended to resolve the crisis in Syria entering a critical phase, senior United Nations officials called today for immediate Security Council action to ensure a ceasefire is in place in that country’s north-western Idlib Governorate amid a surge in civilian casualties and ongoing attacks on key infrastructure.

“We cannot turn back the clock on what has happened, but this Council and its members can take meaningful action now to protect civilians and ensure full respect for international humanitarian law, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said. “It is within your power to do that.”

He went on to note that, with the first anniversary of the signing of a memorandum of understanding on stabilizing the situation in Idlib just three weeks away, fighting is continuing in plain sight, day in and day out. Three million people, two thirds of them women and children, are counting on the Council’s support to halt the violence, he added.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation, “Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016), 2393 (2017), 2401 (2018) and 2449 (2018)” pertaining to Syria, he said that, as of the end of July, more than 500 civilians have been killed and hundreds injured since fighting escalated in north-western Syria in late April, according to conservative estimates. Schools, health-care facilities, water stations and markets have also been targeted.

He added that, since the collapse of a conditional ceasefire on 5 August, dozens of communities have emptied out of northern Hama and southern Idlib, with satellite imagery revealing that entire towns and villages have been razed. Most of those who can have fled north, further into Idlib and closer to the border with Turkey, while those who stay behind cower in the basements of what is left of their homes, he said.

Also briefing Council members, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria said the situation in Idlib must be resolved through a predominantly political solution. He called attention to Syrians facing unprecedented levels of poverty and a sense of hopelessness alongside millions of refugees still facing obstacles to a safe, dignified and voluntary return home.

Stressing the urgent need for a nationwide ceasefire, as stipulated in Council resolution 2254 (2015), he updated members on his efforts to facilitate intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva, including plans to form a constitutional committee that would include Government and opposition representatives. He strongly urged the Russian Federation and the United States to deepen their own dialogue.

He declared: “We are entering a crucial month for the parties to engage with the United Nations in finalizing the constitutional committee and key international players to stabilize Idlib, the north-east and regional tensions, and come together behind the United Nations effort.” That could enable the United Nations to convene a committee with accompanying steps to overcome deep distrust and offer some hope after “many years of darkness”, he said. “This will not be easy, but this is the one path towards a better future for Syria and a step‑by‑step implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).”

Reiterating that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict, now in its ninth year, several Council members warned that a deterioration of the situation in Idlib, as well as ongoing humanitarian emergencies in other corners of the country, could jeopardize the fitful political process.

Belgium’s representative, speaking also for Kuwait and Germany, said he has introduced a draft resolution on the humanitarian situation in Syria with a view to working with all Council members on the text. Speaking in his national capacity, he added that a Syria-wide ceasefire, followed by free elections and the fostering of a safe and stable society, is imperative.

The United Kingdom’s representative said the Council and the international community have failed Syria’s people, while emphasizing that President Bashar al‑Assad’s regime and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) bear primary responsibility for their suffering. Nor can the Russian Federation’s veto of multiple Council resolutions be overlooked, he added. The least that can be done now is to demand and implement an immediate ceasefire, he said.

In response, the Russian Federation’s representative said today’s meeting reflected the way in which the Council typically deals with Syria — by distorting humanitarian conditions. The actions of terrorist groups are the real cause of the current situation, he emphasized, adding that history will judge those who have almost destroyed Syria, including through false statements. Damascus has agreed to a ceasefire if others agree to pull out their heavy weaponry, he said, reiterating that the fault lies not with Syria, but with terrorists who failed to withdraw their arsenals. Terrorists and their supporters no longer hold the upper hand and as soon as Council members recognize this, it will be possible to end the suffering of the Syrian people, he added.

Syria’s representative echoed that view, insisting that his country is exercising its sovereign right to combat terrorism. Citing a recent report from The Hague, he said there are 4,300 European terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq, including 2,800 from Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. He went on to affirm that the Syrian and Russian air forces do not attack civilian targets; rather, they target terrorist bases, and the real threat now is an attempt by Turkey and the United States to establish a “safe zone” on Syrian territory, which constitutes a blatant violation of national sovereignty. He went on to describe Idlib as the world’s biggest “dumping ground” for foreign terrorist fighters, describing Kuwait’s Salafi movement and the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States as partners in sponsoring some terrorist groups.

Kuwait’s representative, however, described those accusations as baseless and false. No Salafist movements in Kuwait support any faction in Syria, he said, emphasizing that such movements provide only humanitarian funding. Anybody with knowledge of who perpetrated crimes against Syrians should inform the 1267 Sanctions Committee, he added.

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

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:44 p.m.

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