December 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Syria

Expected Council Action

In December, 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

Syria’s overall humanitarian situation remains dire, and its worsening economic situation has exacerbated the country’s already difficult food crisis. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), 90 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line, and approximately 12.4 million people—nearly 60 percent of Syria’s population—are now considered food insecure, representing a 57 percent increase since 2019. During a 9 to 12 November visit to Syria, WFP Executive Director David Beasley cautioned that “more Syrians are in the grip of hunger today than at any time during their country’s decade-long conflict”.  

The humanitarian situation in the northwest of Syria is particularly dismal. According to OCHA, 2.8 million people in the region are currently displaced, including approximately two million people who live in temporary camps. Briefing the Council on 27 October, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said that these camps often consist of “flimsy shelters, in valleys that flood, or on rocky hillsides exposed to the elements”, making them particularly vulnerable to the onset of harsh winter conditions. A fuel shortage also means that one-third of households in the northwest will not have access to heating during the upcoming winter.  

In Syria’s northeast, the humanitarian situation is also precarious, especially given the historically low water level in the Euphrates River, which has contributed to power outages, reduced access to clean drinking water, loss of crops, and an increase in water-borne diseases. According to recent media reports, the water level at one of the two main dams providing electricity in the northeast is decreasing at a rate that could see it lose all functionality by the end of December, threatening the well-being of some three to five million people. 

While OCHA continues to deliver assistance via the Bab al-Hawa crossing at the Turkish-Syrian border, it has recently also taken steps to facilitate cross-line assistance into the northwest. On 27 October, Griffiths told the Council that WFP is preparing another cross-line delivery in November, building on its August delivery of assistance from government-controlled territory in Aleppo into opposition-held territory in northwest Syria. (At the time of writing, this had yet to happen.)  

Griffiths also said that OCHA had elaborated a plan for “a series of regular and predictable inter-agency cross-line operations” in the coming six months and that a request for the first of such deliveries had been made to the government in Damascus. During closed consultations on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria on 15 November, Griffiths apparently told Council members that the Syrian government had accepted the plan, but it is unclear whether an agreement had been reached to allow the requested delivery. 

The political track in Syria has made little progress since Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen organised the last round of the Constitutional Committee from 18 to 22 October. While the delegations submitted draft constitutional texts, they were unable to agree on a mechanism to revise the texts and thus failed to begin a drafting phase for a new constitution. They also did not agree on dates for future rounds of discussions.   

During closed consultations on 15 November, Pedersen apparently explained to Council members that he was deepening his engagement with key international actors to help move the political process forward. At that meeting, some Council members apparently raised concerns about the effects that improving diplomatic and economic ties between Syria and other countries in the region, notably Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, could have on the Constitutional Committee’s work. Analysts have suggested that the “normalization” process may cause Damascus to demonstrate less commitment to the political track.  

Finally, hostilities continue in Syria’s northwest, with government forces shelling numerous areas around Idlib and Aleppo in recent weeks and reports that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an armed opposition group that is designated by the Security Council as a terrorist organisation and controls parts of Syria’s northwest, has increased its shelling of government forces near the de-escalation zone near Idlib. In Syria’s northeast, violence involving Turkish forces and Kurdish-led forces persisted in November. International media continue to report that Turkey may be preparing a large-scale incursion into the area. 

Issues and Options

A primary issue for Council members in December will be the humanitarian situation in Syria, especially as it relates to the delivery of humanitarian assistance across internal frontlines. Council members may focus on the contents of the Secretary-General’s “substantive report” on this issue, which is likely to be issued in mid-December.

Another issue that Council members will be following closely is any development involving the Constitutional Committee. Given that the committee made very limited progress during the sixth round of meetings in October, Council members may wish to step up political backing to the Special Envoy’s continued diplomatic efforts. This could be done through issuing a press statement calling on all parties to work in good faith towards a new constitution in line with resolution 2254 and offering concrete benchmarks for the committee to achieve.

Council Dynamics

Despite the unanimous adoption of resolution 2585 in July, several issues continue to divide the Council on the humanitarian file. Key divisions relate to the efficacy of cross-line deliveries and the length of the cross-border mechanism mandate. France, the UK and the US, joined by most elected members, assert that the resolution ensures the automatic continuation of the cross-border mechanism for delivery of humanitarian assistance through the border crossing at Bab al-Hawa for a full year, but Russia has intimated on several occasions that it has a different understanding of the resolution, arguing that it can be interpreted to mean that the mandate will not be automatically rolled over in January. Speaking to the Council on 15 September, the Russian representative noted that “resolution 2585 foresees no automatism…[E]verything will depend on whether its provisions have been properly implemented”.

The Council also remains divided on the work of the Constitutional Committee. Some Council members, such as Russia and China, have argued that the Council should not put undue pressure on the committee, maintaining that its work should proceed at its own pace without outside influence. Other Council members, however, have raised serious concerns that the committee has met only twice in 2021 and bemoan the limited progress on the political track and on the implementation of resolution 2254.

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.
18 December 2015S/RES/2254 This was the first resolution focused exclusively on a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
Security Council Meeting Record
27 October 2021S/PV.8888 This was a meeting on the humanitarian and political situations in Syria.
Secretary-General’s Reports
21 October
2021S/2021/890
This was the latest report on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

 

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