Situation in Middle East (Idlib) - 8715th Security Council Meeting

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06-Feb-2020 02:04:23
Immediate cessation of hostilities in north-west Syria crucial to stop humanitarian catastrophe, mass displacement, top United Nations officials warn Security Council.

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The mounting military escalation in north-west Syria has spiked dramatically in recent days, resulting in a level of civilian displacement and carnage long feared by the international community, the top United Nations official in the country said today during a late-breaking meeting of the Security Council.

“We are witnessing the humanitarian catastrophe that the Secretary-General has warned of,” said Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, who briefed the 15-member Council via videoconference alongside his humanitarian counterpart. Noting that the situation in and around the north-western Idlib Governorate has further escalated since the Council’s last meeting, he described heavy strikes from both the air and ground, as well as massive waves of civilian displacement and major loss of life.

Recalling that Syrian Government forces launched a ground offensive in the area following the dissolution of a 12 January ceasefire agreement between Turkey and the Russian Federation, he described attacks by various Council-designated terrorist groups during the same period, as well as direct clashes between Turkish and Syrian Government forces. “We appear to have lost sight of the principle of proportionality,” he said, noting that Idlib’s civilian population of nearly 3 million comprises, in part, people who have already fled from other parts of Syria. Against that backdrop, he warned that the Government’s current approach to drive terrorists out of Idlib creates a real risk of a bloody and protracted “last stand” on the Turkish border. Calling for an immediate ceasefire followed by a step-by-step approach aimed at building confidence among the parties, he said that an agreement to stabilize Syria remains possible.

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that the escalation’s impact on civilians has been severe, with 373 civilians killed since 1 December and 49 deaths recorded between 1 and 5 February alone. Three humanitarian workers from United Nations partner organizations have been killed. The vast majority of people continue to move north and west into the ever-smaller enclave controlled by non-Government groups, which are now “dramatically overcrowded”, and the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 53 medical facilities have stopped operations due to the fighting.

The United Nations — and broader humanitarian community — are doing their utmost to meet the needs of the 3 million people in the area, with 1,227 aid trucks sent through Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam border crossings in January, he said, pointing out: “This is the most aid the UN has sent across the border in any month since the operation was authorized in 2014.” His team continues its dialogue with all parties to seek cross-line access and will use all options available to reach people in need. How severe the crisis becomes will depend on whether a solution is found to ease the situation for those in harm’s way, he said, emphasizing that time is short and echoing the appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

“Iblib, more and more, becomes a synonym for carnage,” said the representative of Germany, as Council members took the floor. Outlining “truly shocking” humanitarian statistics from official and reliable United Nations sources, he pledged — also on behalf of Belgium as the two co-penholders on the Syrian humanitarian file — to do everything possible to shed light on the consequences of the war in Syria. Meanwhile, the Council must fulfil its responsibility to protect human life, he said, stressing: “Not less but more engagement is needed.”

The United Kingdom’s representative said that people who fled fighting in Aleppo for Idlib now find themselves under even greater attack, which she called a vicious campaign of attrition. Condemning the repeated flouting of international humanitarian law, she said that while Turkey has made efforts to seek a peaceful solution, Syrian authorities have ignored previous ceasefire agreements. She urged the Secretary-General to consider whether the United Nations, beyond its critical humanitarian role, can also assist in achieving a lasting ceasefire.

The representative of the Russian Federation voiced scepticism about today’s unplanned meeting, pointing out that such meetings are only convened when terrorists in Syria are under threat and the Government is regaining control of its territory. Meanwhile, no attention is paid to terrorist violations in other parts of the country, including the city of Homs, where terror groups have destroyed oil and gas infrastructure. Citing some delegations’ condemnations of assaults on the people of Idlib, he emphasized that the latter is not a country but a Syrian province. The Russian Federation is cooperating with Turkey to decrease tensions, notably through the Astana format, he said.

Syria’s representative said that some Council members have sought to discredit and demonize his country for more than eight years. Thanking those Council members who have sought to end the aggression of the “new Ottoman militias” — Turkish forces and mercenaries hailing from Central Asia and elsewhere — he also praised delegations which have condemned the ongoing United States occupation of parts of Syria. The United States continues to protect Turkey from responsibility for its crimes against international law, he said, rejecting any attempts to impose a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) agenda on Syria or to manipulate the United Nations Charter.

The representative of Turkey, meanwhile, said that his country’s forces retaliated in self-defence following the killing of seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian on 3 February. All deployments of his Government’s armed forces have been coordinated with Russian authorities. Despite such notifications, the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad opened fire on Turkish positions. To be clear, “Turkey will not withdraw its forces and will not evacuate any observation post,” he said. Noting that his country hosts nearly 4 million Syrians — almost one fifth of Syria’s population before the start of the conflict – he said that the current conditions were created by “the tyrant in Damascus” who refused to meet his people’s legitimate demands.

Also speaking were representatives of the United States, France, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Viet Nam, South Africa, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Indonesia, Tunisia, China, Belgium and Iran.

The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 5:08 p.m.

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