Middle East (Syria) - Security Council VTC Briefing

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26-May-2021 02:39:06
If Syria's key players remain 'more invested in conflict management than conflict resolution', fighting could last generations, envoy tells Security Council.

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The tragic irony of Syria is that humanitarian suffering is increasing, despite the relative calm, compared with earlier years of the conflict, the Security Council heard today from high-level officials of the Organization who made a strong appeal for continued aid to the country.

In his briefing to the Council, Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy for Syria, noted the many humanitarian and security challenges facing the country, including economic destitution, the COVID-19 pandemic, displacement, detention and abduction, human rights abuses and the continuation of conflict. While the military situation is calm in some areas, with front lines frozen and Russian Federation mediation efforts helping to de-escalate fighting in Qamishli, he noted, there are spikes in mutual shelling and three air strikes in north-west Syria. “Recurring signs of a hot conflict are abundant,” he said, calling for a lasting nationwide ceasefire.

A presidential election is being held today under the auspices of the current Constitution, he told the Council. However, this is not part of the political process called for in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). While the key stakeholders understand the broad contours of a political solution, none are willing to take the first step. “If we continue like this, if key players are more invested in conflict management than conflict resolution, I fear that Syria will become another protracted conflict, lasting generations,” he cautioned. A credible Syrian-led and Syrian-owned Constitutional Committee, under the facilitation of the United Nations, is an important component of a wider process, he said.

A key priority must be unblocking progress on detainees, abductees and missing persons, he said, including through unilateral releases and meaningful action regarding the missing. Steps are also needed to create a safe, calm and neutral environment inside Syria, and a conducive environment for refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes, safely. He also underscored the importance of full, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all parts of Syria. With the pandemic flaring and the price of essential goods and transportation costs increasingly outside of the grasp of many Syrians, while basic services, such as water, electricity and health, are compromised, humanitarian aid continues to be essential. Members of the Council must focus on achieving consensus on a large-scale cross-border response for an additional 12 months. That is essential to save lives, he stressed.

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, echoed that call in his briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Stressing the importance of humanitarian access to north-west Syria, he said it is critical to extend the Security Council authorization for cross-border assistance, which expires in just over six weeks. Such assistance provides food deliveries for 1.4 million people every month, millions of medical treatments, nutrition assistance for tens of thousands of children and mothers, and education supplies for tens of thousands of students. Noting the ongoing work to find an arrangement for cross-line missions that all parties can agree to, he said that, in the meantime, the cross-border operation constitutes a lifeline for more than 3 million people and cannot be substituted. “We look to this Council to ensure that that lifeline is not severed,” he said.

With food prices at historically high levels, he continued, nearly half of Syrian families surveyed in April said adults are eating less themselves so that the children in the family can eat. Fuel shortages also continue across the country, and protests against an increase in fuel and cooking gas prices were met with excessive force, leading to the deaths of at least five civilians, including a child. Attacks on health-care facilities have instilled fear in the civilian population, he said, adding that security problems continue at Al Hol camp, with 6 murders reported since April, and 46 since January. Over 60,000 people remain in the camp, and they are living in unacceptable conditions. “This is a camp of children,” he reminded the Council, adding that most people there are younger than 12.

Noting that north-east Syria continues to lack essential health supplies, including to prevent, test and treat COVID-19 infections, he pointed to a 57 per cent increase in confirmed cases of the virus in April, and a 50 per cent increase in the number of recorded deaths. A first batch of vaccines from the COVAX Facility was airlifted by the World Health Organization (WHO) from Damascus to Qamishli in May to cover 9,000 health workers. Vaccinations started earlier this week, he reported, while adding, “this is of course a drop in the ocean”.

Highlighting another difficult situation, he said that reduced water levels in the Euphrates since January have reached a critical point in May resulting in partial closure of one of the dams. Some 5.4 million people in Syria rely on the Euphrates and its subsidiaries for drinking water. Further, some 3 million people would lose electricity if the dams shut down, as would hospitals and other vital infrastructure across north-east Syria. Also cautioning about the possibility of wide-ranging impacts on agriculture and public health, he said that preventing a shutdown of the Tishreen and Tabqa dams requires dams in Turkey to release a minimum of 500m3 of water per second. However, Turkey has been experiencing water shortages of its own, he noted, urging all concerned to find a solution that sustainably addresses the needs of everyone in the region.

In the ensuing debate, most Council members emphasized that full implementation of resolution 2254 (2015) is the only sustainable solution to the conflict in Syria and expressed reservations about the elections being held today. They underscored the role of the Constitutional Committee in bringing about a comprehensive and lasting political settlement. However, some delegates countered that this assessment of the current election shows indifference to those Syrians turning out in the polls. While many delegates stressed the need to reauthorize the cross-border mechanism for humanitarian assistance, others doubted that it is the only way to get aid to Idlib. A few delegates also pointed out that unilateral sanctions are negatively impacting Syria’s humanitarian situation, as well as infrastructure reconstruction, and called for their removal.

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