8664th Security Council Meeting: Situation in Middle East

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14-Nov-2019 01:35:48
Mandate renewal for cross-border assistance mechanism critical to help millions of Syrian civilians, top official tells Security Council at 8664th meeting.

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More than eight years into Syria’s complex and evolving conflict and despite an uptick in air and ground strikes, a growing number of people — including millions in hard‑to‑reach areas — receive food, medicine and other aid through a closely monitored cross‑border assistance mechanism, whose mandate renewal remains crucial to ward off an even worse humanitarian crisis, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator told the Security Council today.

Mark Lowcock, who is also Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefed the 15‑nation Council on recent developments across north‑east and north‑west Syria — both of which saw increased violence in recent months. Although hostilities in the north‑east have decreased following recent agreements signed between the United States, Turkey and the Russian Federation, air and ground‑based strikes around the north‑west Governorate of Idlib have increased.

However, millions across northern Syria — including 2.7 million who cannot be reached from within the country — continue to receive support from the United Nations cross‑border humanitarian assistance mechanism, first authorized under Council resolution 2165 (2014). “It is through these operations that we have been able to stave off an even worse humanitarian crisis in northern Syria,” he said, noting that the cross‑border mechanism has grown by over 40 per cent in the last year.

Describing them as some of the world’s most closely scrutinized aid delivery systems, he recalled his own recent trip to Turkey, where he saw monitors climbing into trucks, opening boxes and cutting into bags of rice. While “nothing in life is completely risk‑free”, he expressed confidence that help is reaching civilians who need it and urged the Council to reauthorize the cross‑border operation when its mandate expires in early January.

As Council members took the floor, many echoed that call, with some speakers citing a lack of viable alternatives to the cross‑border instrument. Several welcomed the recent agreements that halted hostilities in the country’s north‑east, while appealing to parties to end violence and honour their international obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Belgium’s representative, also speaking for Kuwait and Germany, stressed that the United Nations and its humanitarian partners should be allowed to continue to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syrians in need in a timely, safe, sustained and unimpeded manner using all means, including cross‑border, cross‑line and regular programming. Since those operations began in July 2014, they have brought life‑saving aid to millions of people.

The representative of the United States said the Council has an obligation to respond to the suffering brought about by the Assad regime. Affirming the continuing need for the cross‑border mechanism, she called for its technical rollover for another 12 months, while also condemning Russian Federation air strikes that have killed civilians and humanitarian workers and demanding that the regime stop withholding humanitarian aid as a weapon.

The representative of the United Kingdom, Council President for November and speaking in her national capacity, said that humanitarian actors must have unrestricted access to those in need. Joining other speakers in calling for a technical rollover of the cross‑border aid mechanism, she also paid tribute to the humanitarian volunteer organization known as the “White Helmets” and its founder, James Le Mesurier, who passed away this week.

Several speakers struck a different tone, underlining the need to prioritize Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and describing illegal occupation by other actors as the root cause of the country’s humanitarian crisis.

In that vein, the representative of the Russian Federation warned foreign military forces that “[Syria’s] oil does not belong to you, it belongs to Syrians”. A return of oil resources will improve the Government’s ability to provide humanitarian aid, he stressed, noting that Idlib remains a hotbed of terrorism with civilians held as human shields. As the situation in Syria continues to normalize and the country’s Constitutional Committee begins its work, he pledged the Russian Federation’s support.

Syria’s delegate, stating there was “a big elephant in Syria”, expressed similar concerns, particularly about a United States occupation and the armed robbery of his country’s oil, as well as the recent Turkish presence along the Turkish‑Syrian border aimed at changing demography. Calling for an end to foreign forces in his country — and for Governments to cease sponsoring militias — he decried the unilateral, coercive economic sanctions imposed against Damascus and demanded an end to violations of Syria’s sovereignty by useless cross‑border aid operations.

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

The meeting began at 3:18 p.m. and ended at 4:54 p.m.

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