Despite the announcement in early May by Iran, Russia and Turkey of the establishment of four de-escalation areas in Syria, a 4-5 July meeting in Astana ended without agreement on the delineation of the areas or their monitoring mechanisms. On 7 July, the US and Russia, along with Jordan, announced the establishment of a ceasefire agreement in southwestern Syria. While details regarding the implementation of the agreement are still being discussed, Russian military police units have deployed along the perimeter of the de-escalation zone. On 22 July, Russia and Egypt brokered a ceasefire agreement in Eastern Ghouta. Despite the deployment of Russian military police, the government reportedly conducted airstrikes the next day.
From 10 to 14 July, de Mistura convened the seventh round of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. Briefing Council members on 14 July via video teleconference, de Mistura described incremental progress, particularly regarding the holding of joint meetings with opposition delegations before and during the last round of talks in which common positions were identified. He also described how the government has so far not provided concrete thinking on issues in the different baskets, particularly on a proposal regarding the schedule for drafting a new constitution.
During the sixth round of talks, de Mistura had proposed the establishment of a technical process of expert meetings to address constitutional and legal issues, but the government has refused to participate in these meetings between rounds. De Mistura conveyed his intention to address these issues and to push for direct engagement by the parties in the next round of talks in early September. On 13 July, France proposed the establishment of a contact group composed of permanent members of the Council and regional actors to support UN efforts to broker a political settlement.
The investigation of the 4 April attack in Khan Shaykhun conducted by the FFM of the OPCW, while not able to visit the site given security considerations, concluded that a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance used as a chemical weapon (S/2017/567). On 29 June, the OPCW informed the Council that with the destruction of an aircraft hangar in June, the OPCW has verified the destruction of 25 of the 27 chemical weapons production facilities declared by Syria (S/2017/564). However, the OPCW continues to consider Syria’s initial declaration as incomplete.
On 6 July, Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and Edmond Mulet, the head of the three-member leadership panel of the OPCW-UN JIM, briefed Council members in consultations. Speaking to the press after the meeting in consultations, Mulet said that the JIM has been under pressure from some member states, telling them how to do their work and otherwise threatening not to accept their conclusions. He appealed to all member states to allow the JIM to perform its work in an impartial, independent and professional manner.
Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefed the Council on 27 July on the humanitarian situation in Syria. According to the 21 July report of the Secretary-General, the number of people displaced across northeast Syria due to the counter-terrorism offensive near Raqqa has grown in June alone to almost 20,000, many of whom were displaced more than once (S/2017/623).
De Mistura’s plan to convey an expert meeting on the consultative process on constitutional and legal issues in between rounds of the intra-Syrian talks was rejected by the Syrian government. However, de Mistura met with experts from opposition delegations on 15-16 June. On 17 June, he announced that the seventh round of the intra-Syrian talks would begin on 10 July in Geneva. Briefing the Council on 27 June de Mistura expressed his readiness to “seek to facilitate direct talks between the government and the opposition” either at a formal or technical level.
On 15 June, Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefed Council members on progress in the elimination of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons. She stressed that there has been no change to the lack of safe access to the two above-ground stationary facilities that are to be destroyed with the supervision of the OPCW (S/2017/469). The JIM, whose three-member leadership team (headed by Edmond Mulet with Judy Cheng-Hopkins and Stefan Mogl) is now complete, has started to investigate the 16 September 2016 incident where the FFM found that mustard gas was used (S/2017/400).
On 21 June Secretary-General António Guterres appealed to all those conducting military operations in Syria to do everything in their power to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, as fighting continues in Raqqa and elsewhere. OCHA head Stephen O’Brien briefed the Council on 29 June on the humanitarian situation in Syria on a 23 June report of the Secretary-General. Despite the drop in violence in some areas of the country, humanitarian convoys continue to be delayed and blocked by bureaucratic restrictions that limit their ability to get to civilians living in besieged and hard-to-reach areas. O’Brien stressed how even if the most egregious restrictions come from the Syrian government, other groups operating in areas not controlled by the government are also implementing procedures that slow the process or impinge upon humanitarian principles.
In a 2 May report, the FFM of the OPCW confirmed the use of sulfur mustard in a September 2016 attack in Um-Housh near Aleppo, which had been denounced by the government of Syria. The FFM of the OPCW shared with Council members a 12 May update on its investigation of the 4 April Khan Shaykhun attack. An analysis of biomedical samples in OPCW-designated laboratories confirmed the use of sarin or a sarin-like substance in the attack. On 22 May, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura briefed Council members on the sixth round of intra-Syrian talks was convened in Geneva between 16-19 May. On 23 May, Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefed the Council on progress in the elimination of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons. On 30 May, OCHA head Stephen O’Brien briefed the Council on the monthly report on the humanitarian situation in Syria.