Expected Council Action
In March, the Security Council will hold its monthly meetings on political and humanitarian developments in Syria and on the use of chemical weapons in the country.
Key Recent Developments
Syria continues to grapple with the devastating humanitarian consequences of the recent earthquakes in the country. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck south-east Türkiye and northern Syria on 6 February. During an 8 February press briefing, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for Syria El-Mostafa Benlamlih noted that 10.9 million people in Syria have been affected by the earthquake in the north-western governorates of Hama, Latakia, Idlib, Aleppo, and Tartus. On 20 February two additional earthquakes, measuring 6.4 and 5.8 in magnitude, hit the same region. According to OCHA’s 23 February flash update, more than 4,500 deaths and 8,500 injuries have been reported in north-west Syria as a result of the earthquakes. During a press briefing on 21 February, OCHA’s Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi said that the 20 February earthquakes injured at least 195 civilians in Aleppo and Idlib according to initial assessments.
On 13 February, the Security Council held a private meeting, followed by closed consultations, to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria in the aftermath of the 6 February earthquake. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths briefed the Council on his recent visit to earthquake-affected areas in Türkiye and Syria. He provided an update on the Syrian government’s decision to open two additional crossing points—Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee—from Türkiye to north-west Syria for an initial period of three months for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Prior to this decision, humanitarian assistance was being delivered to Syria from Türkiye only through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, in accordance with resolution 2672 of 9 January. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 13 February.)
In a 13 February statement, Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed this decision and noted that “as the toll of the 6 February earthquake continues to mount, delivering food, health, nutrition, protection, shelter, winter supplies and other life-saving supplies to all the millions of people affected is of the utmost urgency”. During a 9 February press encounter, Guterres mentioned that many non-UN relief agencies are delivering aid through other crossings.
According to data provided by OCHA, a total of 456 trucks loaded with aid provided by six UN agencies have crossed to north-west Syria from Türkiye since 9 February: 358 using the Bab al-Hawa crossing, 82 across Bab al-Salam, and 16 across Al Ra’ee.
On 14 February, Guterres launched a flash appeal seeking $397.6 million for the provision of humanitarian assistance to 4.9 million Syrians over a three-month period from February to May. The appeal covers several different sectors, including food security and agriculture; early recovery and livelihoods; water, sanitation and hygiene health; nutrition; and protection. At the time of writing, the flash appeal for Syria was 38 percent funded.
On 15 February, Security Council members held a meeting on Syria under “any other business” at the request of France. Griffiths briefed members on the UN’s efforts to facilitate the continued flow of humanitarian aid to those in need. It seems that France called the meeting to discuss the modalities of the ongoing cross-border operations and OCHA’s plans to operationalise the additional border crossings.
On 16 February, Security Council members held an informal interactive dialogue (IID), in accordance with resolution 2672 of 9 January, which encouraged Council members to convene IIDs every two months “with participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria”. The meeting featured a briefing by Tareq Talahma, OCHA’s Acting Director for Operations and Advocacy. Three other UN officials— Benlamlih, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis Muhannad Ibrahim Ahmed Hadi, and Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis ad interim on surge to Türkiye David Carden were also on hand to respond to questions. In addition to Council members and Syria, interested regional parties (Iran and Türkiye) and donors (Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the EU) also participated in the meeting. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 15 February.)
On 22 February, Security Council members held a meeting on Syria under “any other business” at the request of the US. Griffiths briefed the Council on developments in Syria since the 16 February IID. Reportedly, he provided an update on the delivery of cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria and called for more funding for the humanitarian response in the country.
On 22 February, the Deputy Special Envoy for Syria Najat Rochdi convened the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) Humanitarian Task Force (HTF) in Geneva. This was the second meeting of the HTF since the 6 February earthquake hit the country. According to a 22 February statement of the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, the meeting focused on the “needs and key asks to facilitate humanitarian assistance to all affected areas” and quick disbursement of funding in response to the 14 February flash appeal. In her remarks, Rochdi called for resumption and increase of cross-line operations (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) into north-west Syria and emphasised the need for the concerned parties and those with influence to secure the necessary approvals and security guarantees without delay. She added that simplified and expedited procedures must be ensured for the movement of the humanitarian staff into north-west Syria.
On 7 February, the Council convened a briefing, followed by consultations, on the Syria chemical weapons track. At the meeting, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fernando Arias updated the Council on the findings of the third report of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), dated 27 January. The report provided the findings of the investigations conducted from January 2021 to December 2022 on the 7 April 2018 Douma incident and concluded that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Forces were the perpetrators of the chemical weapons attack”. The report says that at least one Mi-8/17 helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Forces, departing from Dumayr air base, “dropped two yellow cylinders which hit two residential buildings” in a central area of the city, killing at least 43 people, including 17 women, nine boys, and ten girls. Arias noted that the evidence collected and analysed corroborated the conclusions of the report and rejected other scenarios. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 6 February.)
On 28 February, the Council convened its monthly meeting on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Griffiths; Geir O.Pedersen, the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria; and Rasha Muhrez, Country Director of Save the Children, briefed. Griffiths highlighted the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country as a result of the 6 February earthquake and its aftershocks. Regarding the resumption of the cross-line operations, he noted that the UN continues to liaise with the relevant parties to explore all viable options. In his remarks, Pedersen welcomed the introduction of earthquake-related exemptions in several unilateral sanctions, imposed by several countries, including the US, the UK and the EU. He noted that the unresolved political challenges in Syria will pose obstacles as the focus moves from emergency response to recovery. In this regard, he added that the approach of seeking reciprocal and verifiable confidence-building measures through the “step-for-step” initiative remains critical in making further progress.
Hostilities continue in some parts of Syria. On 19 February, a missile attack struck the Kafr Sousa neighbourhood of central Damascus, which reportedly killed a number of civilians and injured at least five others, according to media reports. In a 21 February statement, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria ad interim Mike Robson expressed deep concern about the strikes in Damascus and noted that “civilians continue to suffer the tragic consequences of ongoing hostilities in parts of Syria, in addition to the tragic earthquake which hit Türkiye and Syria on 6 February”. According to a 22 February Reuters article, sources close to the Syrian government said that the strike hit a gathering of Syrian and Iranian technical experts in drone manufacturing and killed one Syrian engineer and one Iranian official.
Human Rights-Related Developments
According to the Secretary-General’s 60-day report on the implementation of resolution 2672, released on 21 February (covering period from December 2022 to January 2023), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had verified several incidents across the country in which 42 civilians, including 4 women and 13 children were killed as a result of hostilities.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Security Council is how to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Syria in the aftermath of the 6 February earthquake. Periodic briefings from Griffiths or other OCHA officials could help keep the Council informed of the humanitarian situation on the ground. Council members could also consider inviting representatives of Syrian humanitarian aid organisations to engage with them to explore avenues for improving aid delivery mechanisms in Syria.
The Council could consider adopting a presidential statement that:
- expresses strong concern about the dire humanitarian consequences of the 6 February earthquake;
- expresses strong support for the efforts of the UN and humanitarian actors on the ground;
- welcomes the opening and commencement of delivery of aid through additional border crossings—Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee—and further emphasises the Council’s intention to closely monitor the delivery of humanitarian aid through additional border crossings;
- encourages donors to enhance their support for the Syrian humanitarian response plan, including early recovery efforts and the Secretary-General’s 14 February flash appeal; and
- urges the Syrian government to facilitate unimpeded humanitarian access for the UN and other humanitarian agencies in the earthquake-affected areas.
It seems that Council members have divergent views about the need to adopt a product to respond to the humanitarian crisis that has been exacerbated by the earthquake. During the 13 February closed consultations, members apparently expressed opposing views, with some members calling for a resolution recognising the opening of the two additional border crossings and the need to monitor the delivery of humanitarian aid through these crossings. It seems that these members argued that such a resolution is necessary to ensure the predictable delivery of aid to affected areas. Other Council members apparently strongly opposed the idea of a Council resolution on the matter, emphasising the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It seems that some members indicated an interest in having further discussions on the issue.
In a 13 February Twitter post, Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière (France) emphasised that if the Syrian government fails to implement its commitment to open the two crossing points, the Security Council “will have to take its responsibilities and adopt a resolution”. At a media stakeout on 14 February, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) welcomed the opening of additional border crossings, describing this decision as “long overdue”. She emphasised the need for a resolution with monitoring mechanisms that “codifies additional crossing[s] and offers predictability” for the UN and humanitarian actors on the ground. At the 28 February Council briefing, Russia noted that the Syrian government’s decision to open additional border crossings “corresponds to the guiding principles for humanitarian assistance” and thus does not require any further Council action.
Brazil and Switzerland, the co-penholders on the Syria humanitarian file, apparently proposed a draft press statement on the situation in Syria following the 16 February IID. It seems, however, that Council members were unable to reach consensus on the text.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SYRIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|9 January 2023S/RES/2672||This resolution extended the authorisation for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for an additional six months, until 10 July 2023.|
|12 July 2022S/RES/2642||This resolution reauthorised the cross-border humanitarian aid mechanism in Syria for six months until 10 January 2023 and required a separate resolution to extend the mandate for an additional six months until 10 July 2023.|
|21 February 2023S/2023/127||This was the 60-day report on the implementation of resolution 2672.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|7 February 2023S/PV.9255||This was a meeting on the chemical weapons track in Syria.|
|25 January 2023S/PV.9248||This was a briefing on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria.|