Situation in Middle East (Syria) - 8734th Security Council Meeting

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27-Feb-2020 02:34:00
Greater cross-border, cross-line access needed for assistance to Syria, Emergency Relief Coordinator tells Security Council.

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Aid Delivery Viable from Within Our Borders, Says Permanent Representative, as Turkey Cites Collective Duty to Stop ‘Massacre’

Greater access across borders, as well as lines of conflict is required to sustain the delivery of humanitarian assistance in north-eastern Syria, the United Nations Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator told the Security Council today, citing the Tal Abiyad crossing as the most feasible alternative to Al Yarubiyah, which was closed on 10 January.

Briefing Council members, Ursula Mueller presented four requirements for cross-line modalities to work effectively, saying they are laid out in the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2020/139), as per the Council’s request in resolution 2504 (2020). With that resolution’s adoption in January, she noted, the Council also removed Al Ramtha and Al Yarubiyah as authorized border crossings for United Nations aid deliveries and requested that the Secretary-General recommend an alternative to the latter.

Ms. Mueller, who is also the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that, for cross-line modalities to work, the Government of Syria must provide timely approval for the importation of all necessary medical supplies. A simplified, expedited and reliable approval process is also needed to facilitate regular over-land deliveries from Damascus into the north-east, she added. Government approval is also needed to access all areas and facilities in the north-east to ensure that assistance is delivered impartially and without discrimination to those in need. Finally, local authorities in the north-east must facilitate deliveries without delay, she emphasized.

Should those steps not be taken — and in the absence of consent from Syria or its neighbours for the use of border crossings — the Council would need to authorize the United Nations and its partners to use additional crossings, she said, cautioning that humanitarian needs will increase without such efforts. The first shortages of supplies for medical facilities previously supported by cross‑border operations are expected by March, she added.

Also briefing members, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that fighting in north-western Syria has forced 900,000 people — 500,000 of them children — from their homes since December 2019. For some, it is the sixth or seventh displacement, she said, adding that tens of thousands are living in makeshift tents, public buildings and out in the open. Describing military strikes against camps in Idlib Governorate as both reprehensible and morally repugnant, she said UNICEF has heard reports of children freezing to death.

She went on to appeal not only for more funding and resources, but also for the Council to stand up for Syrian children with one united voice. Regular humanitarian pauses would enable civilians safely to flee harm, she said, asking for greater access “across the board”, including road access for convoys delivering medical supplies from Damascus, or from across the border, to the north-east.

In the ensuing debate, delegates agreed that the humanitarian situation in north-western Syria also requires urgent attention due to an advance by Syria’s military. That offensive has forced nearly 950,000 people to flee since 1 December 2019, with another 200,000 expected to soon leave. Differences emerged, however, over the actions needed to alleviate the crisis.

Syria’s representative emphasized that the Secretary-General’s report does not refer to Tal Abiyad as the most logical cross-border option, but presents alternatives based on consultations with the Government of Syria. In fact, Syria’s work with several parties enables it to deliver aid, psychosocial support and basic services to millions of people in areas classified as beyond Government control. Delivery to the north-east is viable from within Syria’s borders without politicizing aid or allowing Turkey to use the crossings mentioned in resolution 2504 (2020) as entry points for its troops, he added.

Turkey’s representative, however, accused the regime of President Bashar al‑Assad of leaving civilians in Idlib with two options: either stay in the area and hope to survive, or flee in harsh winter conditions. “We have a collective responsibility to stop this massacre,” he said, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities. Turkey will work with the United Nations to prepare the Tal Abiyad crossing for humanitarian operations, he pledged.

Belgium’s Deputy Minister for Finance and Development, Alexander De Croo, said the Council must consider using the Tal Abyah crossing because confrontation between Turkey on the one hand, and Syria and the Russian Federation on the other, could lead to dangerous and unpredictable consequences. “The Syrian authorities’ track record on humanitarian access leaves much room to question,” he added, emphasizing that partial or conditional aid delivery is unacceptable.

The representative of the United States echoed that sentiment, stressing that the Council cannot depend on Syria to deliver cross-line assistance. Tal Abiyad — the border crossing recommended by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and supported by the United States months ago — is the most feasible alternative, she said.

France’s representative said the Idlib offensive leaves no doubt that Syria, supported by the Russian Federation and others, intends to regain control of the country by force and without negotiating. France and its European partners will neither help to finance Syria’s reconstruction nor lift sanctions until there is a firm and irreversible commitment to a political settlement, he said.

The Russian Federation’s representative emphasized that the final and irreversible expulsion of all terrorists is the only long-term solution for Idlib and for Syria as a whole. “Please don’t tell us we are exacerbating the situation,” he added, noting that Syria has increased the number of humanitarian approvals it issues to 600 a month. Some 95 per cent of them were blanket approvals that provided humanitarian agencies with flexibility. While acknowledging the problems mentioned in the Secretary-General’s reports, he requested that Council members not “paint everything in black and white”.

Tunisia’s representative underlined the critical importance of the United Nations role, saying the Organization’s efforts could be more effective if the Council was united. Any ceasefire initiative will be temporary without practical solutions that ensure the eradication of Council-designated terrorist organizations from the region, he said. Concerning cross-border humanitarian deliveries, he called for an incremental approach that respects Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, with the Government playing a coordinating role. He suggested that the Council examine the Government’s proposals for alternative ways to deliver humanitarian assistance by land, sea and air.

Also speaking today were representatives of Germany, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominican Republic, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Niger, South Africa, Estonia, China and the United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:40 p.m.

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