Expected Council Action
In October, the Security Council expects to hold its monthly meetings on the political and humanitarian situations and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Key Recent Developments
On 30 August, the World Food Programme (WFP) organised the delivery of humanitarian assistance from government-controlled territory in Aleppo into opposition-held territory in northwest Syria. This delivery was the first cross-line shipment into northwest Syria since 2017. According to OCHA, 14 trucks brought food rations to assist approximately 50,000 people. At the time of writing, the food aid had only been shipped to a warehouse in the northwest and had not been distributed to those in need. During his 15 September Council briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, who visited Syria, Lebanon and Turkey from 28 August to 3 September, commended the cross-line shipment. The delivery, he said, “show[ed] the resolve of the UN and our partners to assist people in need through all possible modalities, sparing no effort”. He acknowledged, however, that the food rations were “sufficient to cover only a fraction of the enormous food needs in northwest Syria”.
Cross-line humanitarian assistance remains one of the most contentious issues for the Council. At the 15 September meeting, all Council members welcomed the cross-line delivery as important progress in getting humanitarian assistance into northwest Syria, but Russia intimated that it did not see this as adequate progress, warning Council members “not to be satisfied with this modest and one-time result”. It also called on the UN and Council members to “work on ensuring smooth cross-line deliveries” if the Council wished to “avoid difficulties this winter in renewing the mandate of the cross-border humanitarian assistance mechanism”.
Overall, Syria’s humanitarian situation remains dire. Over 13.4 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, which represents a 21 percent increase compared to this time last year. Although a recent WFP assessment found that food prices had remained stable this past July, they have risen by 93 percent since July 2020. The country’s economic decline, ongoing water shortages, security challenges, and civilian displacement have all further contributed to Syria’s humanitarian crisis. In addition, COVID-19 cases are surging in Syria, hitting the northwest particularly hard. International media reported on 22 September that COVID-19 cases in the northwest had doubled over the past month to approximately 63,000, putting severe strain on the region’s inadequate healthcare facilities.
A ceasefire was announced in Daraa on 1 September, allowing most residents of Daraa al-Balad—a neighbourhood in Daraa city, which is home to some 55,000 people, including many former members of the armed opposition—to return to their homes. The area, which is in Syria’s south-west, had witnessed intense shelling and fighting since late June. In July, Syrian government forces, apparently supported by Iranian-backed militias, began a siege of the area, cutting off access and critical services and supplies to Daraa al-Balad and resulting in large-scale displacement and destruction of critical infrastructure. Russian mediators worked with the Syrian government and local opposition figures to facilitate the ceasefire agreement, which is meant to be monitored by Russian troops. During his 15 September Council briefing, Griffiths told the Council that humanitarian assistance had begun arriving in Daraa al-Balad.
Despite the recent cessation of hostilities in Daraa, the security situation in the country remains fragile. In Syria’s northwest, there has been an uptick in violence in recent weeks. According to OCHA’s most recent situation report, dated 13 September, some areas in northwest Syria have seen the largest escalation of hostilities since the Russian-Turkish ceasefire of March 2020, resulting in 86 civilian deaths since June. Syrian government shelling caused 20 deaths in August alone. Daily shelling persists in areas south of Idlib, and at least 29 airstrikes in August hit areas that are part of the de-escalation zone established by the March 2020 ceasefire.
The violence also comes amidst international media reports of Turkey deploying “thousands” of additional troops into northwest Syria. Some analysts believe that a large-scale military confrontation between Turkey on one side and Syrian and Russian forces on the other is imminent, which could lead many of the displaced already living in the northwest to seek refuge in Turkey. During a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 14 September, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “the main problem [in Syria] lies in the presence in some parts of the country of foreign armed forces without any mandate from the UN or [Syria’s] permission”. On 29 September, Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met in Sochi, Russia. The situation in Syria, including the status of the ceasefire, was a key topic of the meeting. Speaking to the press, Erdoğan stated that “the steps [Russia and Turkey] take together regarding Syria are of great import. Peace there is dependent on Turkey-Russia relations”.
On 28 September, the Council held a briefing on the political situation in Syria. Special Envoy Geir O. Pedersen raised concern about a recent increase in violence, and in reference to the Putin-Erdoğan meeting, urged those “who have influence to promote calm”. He also noted that while it had been two years since the establishment of the Constitutional Committee, there was a lack of steady progress. However, he told the Council that, following his recent diplomatic efforts, an agreement was reached between the co-chairs of the Constitutional Committee on a methodology for the committee’s future work. As such, Pedersen informed the Council that he was convening a sixth round of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, starting the week of 18 October.
During the Council’s 2 September meeting on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu reiterated the long-held assessment by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that unresolved “gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” in Syria’s chemical weapons declaration to the OPCW meant that it could not be considered “accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention”. Notwithstanding the lack of overall progress on the file, Nakamitsu highlighted steps that had been taken to set up a meeting between OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias and Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad. This prospective meeting, she hoped, would provide an opportunity to “strengthen dialogue and cooperation between…Syria…and the OPCW Technical Secretariat”.
Key Issues and Options
One key issue for the Council is the volatile security situation in Syria, including the violence in Syria’s northwest, concern for the status of the March 2020 ceasefire in the area, and the status of the 1 September ceasefire in Daraa. Another important issue is the surging rate of COVID-19 cases in Syria.
Members may wish to adopt a presidential statement that:
- calls for all parties in Syria to agree to a nationwide ceasefire and reminds them to uphold international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians;
- calls for widespread and equitable distribution of vaccines across Syria; and
- urges member states to increase their contributions of vaccines to Syria as well as to the COVAX plan led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
Building on the unanimous adoption of resolution 2585, most Council members have stated in the Council their preference for shifting the dynamics on Syria towards a more constructive engagement. Despite these views and Council members’ ability to bridge differences and find compromise language in resolution 2585, several issues continue to divide the Council on the humanitarian situation. Primary amongst these are the efficacy of cross-line deliveries and the length of the cross-border mechanism mandate.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SYRIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|9 July 2021S/RES/2585||This resolution renewed the authorisation for cross-border humanitarian aid into Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|15 September 2021 S/PV.8861||This was a meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria.|