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The situation in the Middle East - Security Council…

24 August 2021


The situation in the Middle East - Security Council, 8841th Meeting

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24 Aug 2021

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Escalating conflict, deepening economic crisis in Syria pushing humanitarian needs to highest levels since start of conflict, senior officials tell Security Council.

Permanent Representative Blames Catastrophic Impact of Sanctions on Food, Fuel Deliveries, while United States Delegate Says Measures Are Targeted

Against the backdrop of escalating conflict and deepening economic crisis in Syria, senior United Nations officials briefed the Security Council today on the urgent need for a nationwide ceasefire and increased humanitarian access.

Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy for Syria, stressed the importance of an immediate end to the violence, as he drew attention to the heavy shelling and ground clashes in the Daraa Governorate in the south-west. Tensions are also high in the north-west, including Idlib, northern Latakia, Aleppo and western Hama, he said, expressing concern about violence involving non-State armed groups in north‑eastern areas of Raqqa and Hassakeh.

Calling on the parties to abide by international humanitarian law, he highlighted the importance of averting further displacement. Outlining the many hardships in the daily lives of Syrians, he pointed to energy shortages and decreased food supply. The issues facing Syrians are indeed far from solely in the hands of the Syrians. “Constructive international diplomacy is plainly needed,” he stressed. He urged key States — including the Russian Federation and the United States — to work with him in exploratory discussions on a package of concrete, reciprocal steps to help save Syrian lives.

Also briefing the Council today, Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, described a climate of fear and a drastic humanitarian situation exacerbated by the combination of hostilities, economic crisis, water shortages and COVID-19. Humanitarian needs in Syria are at the highest levels since the start of the conflict, he said, but the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan has received only about a quarter of all funding required.

Amid an increase in air strikes, he said, high commodity prices and widespread loss of livelihoods have forced more and more households to reduce meals and even resort to early marriages. He also drew attention to the water crisis, due to critically low water levels in the Euphrates River flowing into Syria from Turkey. In addition to affecting drinking water, irrigation and electricity, this is also impacting public health, he noted, at a time when COVID‑19 transmission rates remain high and available vaccines are insufficient.

The Council also heard from Khaled Erksoussi, Secretary General of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, who echoed the need to resolve the water crisis in the north-east, which has deprived 1.1 million people of drinking water due to lack of power to operate the Alouk water station. These facilities are used as a bargaining chip between the conflict parties, he said, even as black-market food prices are surging.

“A food parcel provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross or World Food Programme (WFP) and distributed by our volunteers is now worth a fortune,” he reported. Describing the toll taken by sanctions, he stressed that their consequences on the common people, already ravaged by violence, exceed any political objectives. Donors cannot continue to “offer water in a bottle or jerrican” when simple logic dictates they maintain the water lines so people can drink on their own, he said.

In the ensuing debate, the representative of Syria stressed the importance of lifting the unilateral economic measures against his country, citing their catastrophic impact on the humanitarian situation, especially on food and fuel deliveries. Calling for greater focus on recovery and infrastructure projects, he described cross-border delivery as a “failing mechanism”, a waste of resources and politicization of humanitarian action.

The Government is exercising self-restraint in the south, he said, adding that the Daraa situation has been falsely described, with terrorists violating ceasefires brokered by the Russian Federation. Calling for an end to the occupation by United States forces in the north-west and by Turkey’s forces in the north-west and north, he said the latter’s occupation forces and affiliate terrorist groups use water as a weapon of war.

Iran’s representative echoed the call for the immediate lifting of all unlawful sanctions against Syria, and improved cross-line humanitarian assistance. There is a lack of transparency in cross-border humanitarian assistance, she said, adding that all uninvited foreign forces must leave the country without any precondition or delay.

The Russian Federation’s delegate called upon the Special Envoy to facilitate dialogue towards the Constitutional Committee process, rather than “bogging it down with artificial preconditions and deadlines”. Syria’s Government has every right to monitor the upholding of law on its own sovereign territory. He also pointed to the need for a rapid transition from the provision of emergency assistance to large-scale recovery and the reconstruction of infrastructure.

However, Turkey’s delegate cautioned against letting the regime and terrorist organizations abuse recovery projects for their narrow agendas. “Last month, the Council made a choice between the urgent needs of the Syrian people and the political calculations of the Assad regime,” she said, adding that millions of people in the north-west continue to need the aid coming from her country through Bab al-Hawa crossing. She also voiced regret that the sixth Constitutional Committee round had not been convened due to the regime’s obstruction.

The representative of the United States meanwhile stressed that her country’s sanctions are targeted against those robbing the Syrian people, and not civilians. The Assad regime’s assault on Daraa has killed civilians, displaced tens of thousands and blocked access by humanitarian organizations, she said, calling on the regime to remove impediments that prevent supplies like baby formula from reaching north-east Syria. She reiterated the call for an immediate ceasefire, adding that the Government can bolster the political process by addressing the plight of detained and missing persons.

Several speakers touched on the need to reinvigorate the political process, with the representative of Niger pointing out that this crisis will not be resolved by the force of weapons. Noting the lack of progress despite the establishment of the Constitutional Committee and multiple rounds of negotiations, he said it is high time that “the parties present get their houses in order”. Ireland’s representative praised Syrian women leaders for their courage and resilience and reiterated their right to be “in the room and at the table” of any political negotiation.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Mexico, China, Tunisia, Viet Nam, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, France, Estonia, United Kingdom, Norway, Kenya and India.

The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 12:40 p.m.

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