8645th Security Council Meeting: Situation in Middle East

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24-Oct-2019 02:40:36
Turkey’s military operation has displaced thousands of civilians, worsened Syria’s dire humanitarian crisis, top official warns Security Council at 8645th meeting.

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The recent escalation of hostilities in north‑east Syria — following a Turkish military operation launched on 9 October — has exacerbated the safety and well‑being of the area’s 3 million residents, a top United Nations humanitarian official warned the Security Council today, adding that nearly 180,000 people have fled that border region in just two weeks.

“The latest surge in hostilities in north‑east Syria compounds an already dire humanitarian situation,” said Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, as she voiced concern about the rapidly unfolding situation on the ground. Calling for safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access to all those in need, she said the military operation by the Turkish Armed Forces and allied non‑State armed groups has led to a humanitarian emergency much larger than had been anticipated.

Of the 3 million people living in north‑east Syria, 1.8 million were already dependent on aid even before recent developments, she said. While humanitarian actors continue to deliver aid despite serious challenges on the ground, some groups have had to temporarily limit or suspend their operations due to the deteriorating security situation. “As the situation evolves, a critical challenge […] is the need to scale up operations from within Syria,” she said.

Mohamed Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary‑General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, also voiced his concerns about the humanitarian impacts of Turkey’s “Operation Peace Spring”. While violence has now subsided, the situation remains in flux, with many civilians in the north‑east fearing further displacement, disruption of humanitarian access or the return of Government forces. It is crucial that the Council and Member States protect civilians, including captured fighters, and ensure full and unimpeded humanitarian access. He also called for decisive action to consolidate the ceasefires in the north‑east and north‑west, along with efforts to ensure that Syria’s political negotiations track remains on course.

Agnès Marcaillou, Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service, briefed Council members on the current state of explosive contamination in Syria, whose full extent is not yet known. Preliminary findings for 2019 indicate that over 2,500 communities and 11.5 million people are affected, a dramatic increase from the previous year’s figures, she said, describing the impact on communities — and their already weakened and struggling health sector — as devastating. Outlining response efforts by the Mine Action Service, she said it has so far trained 70 risk education facilitators in 2019, who have been deployed to some 60 communities in rural Damascus.

As Council members took the floor, several also noted their grave concerns about both the current and the potential repercussions of Turkey’s military operation.

The representative of China said he agreed with the aim of rooting out terrorists as a precondition for peace and stability in Syria but noted that “Operation Peace Spring” could negatively impact the country’s political situation. Underlining the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, he reiterated his country’s long‑standing position against the use of force and urged the international community to guard against an opportunistic resurgence of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).

The United States’ representative called attention to his country’s lifting of sanctions on Turkey following the ceasefire agreement reached for north‑east Syria. Nevertheless, he urged Ankara to abide by principles of civilian protection and not facilitate a resurgence of ISIL/Da’esh. Turkey is also responsible if its troops or allied entities have targeted civilians, he said, stressing that such actions could be war crimes and any allegations must be investigated, he warned.

The representative of the Russian Federation, striking a different tone, pointed to the newly signed Memorandum of Understanding between his country and Turkey, which aims to stabilize the situation in north‑east Syria. That agreement will allow Syria to uphold its own national security following the end of an illegal occupation of the area, he said, cautioning against distinguishing “good” terrorists from “bad” ones or providing some with material support. Meanwhile, he warned that the situation in the north‑west will only worsen if terrorists are allowed to maintain control.

Responding to Council members’ concerns, Turkey’s representative remarked: “We are all entitled to our own views, but we are not entitled to our own facts.” Operation Peace Spring was a limited cross‑border intervention intended to fight terror organizations. It aimed to eliminate the long‑standing existential terror threat, enforce Syria’s unity and territorial integrity, protect the local population and create the conditions conducive to voluntary, safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees. Stressing that the Operation was conducted in full respect for international law — targeting only terrorists and terrorist hideouts, weapons and vehicles — he outlined plans for the border region, declaring: “Our common efforts have prevented the establishment of a terror state in northern Syria.”

Syria’s representative, rejecting those claims, said Turkey has started a new round of aggression against the territorial integrity of his country, leading to the occupation of territory, deaths of hundreds, displacement of hundreds of thousands and great destruction. That country’s citing of an Article in the Charter of the United Nations enabling self‑defence cannot be used to invade another country. Despite their condemnations, European and other countries that supported secessionists and terrorists in the north‑east of his country are also not absolved from responsibility. Improving Syria’s humanitarian situation requires the withdrawal of all uninvited foreign forces, he stressed, while calling for the lifting of all unilateral coercive forces and support for Syrian efforts to aid its people.

South Africa’s representative, who holds the Council Presidency for October, spoke in his national capacity, expressing regret that the Council was unable to adopt a resolution addressing Syria’s dire humanitarian situation in September. “This lack of Council unity is not the message we want to convey to the Syrian men, women and children who have lost their lives, sustained severe injuries and endured multiple displacements due to the dismal conditions,” he said, adding: “At the very least, we should be able to agree on humanitarian assistance.” Stressing that Syria’s political track is at a delicate stage — with a glimmer of hope emerging from the launch of its Constitutional Committee — he urged Council members to rally around a common position in support of that process.

Also speaking were representatives of Kuwait (also for Belgium and Germany), France, Dominican Republic, Peru, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Germany, Poland, United Kingdom and Equatorial Guinea.

The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 5:43 p.m.

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