Expected Council Action
In June, the Security Council will hold its monthly meetings on political and humanitarian developments in Syria. Council members are also expected to hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID), in accordance with resolution 2672 of 9 January.
Key Recent Developments
Syria continues to grapple with the devastating humanitarian consequences of the 6 February earthquake and its aftershocks. According to UNICEF’s 2 May situation report, approximately 6,000 people were killed and more than 12,000 injured in Syria. An outbreak of cholera has further compounded the already grim humanitarian situation in the country. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 8 April situation report on the cholera outbreak in Syria, 111,084 suspected cases, including 104 deaths attributed to the disease, were reported across the country between 25 August 2022 and 8 April.
Prior to the earthquake, humanitarian aid was delivered to northwest Syria from Türkiye through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. The opening of two additional border crossings in northwest Syria, Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee, has allowed the UN and other humanitarian organisations to accelerate aid delivery. According to OCHA data, at the time of writing, a total of 2,199 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies from seven UN agencies had crossed to northwest Syria from Türkiye since 9 February through the three border crossings: Bab al-Hawa (1,824 trucks), Bab al-Salam (307 trucks), and Al Ra’ee (68 trucks).
The additional border crossings were initially authorised to operate for three months, starting 13 February. In a 13 May post on Twitter, the Permanent Representative of Syria to the UN, Bassam Sabbagh, said that the Syrian government had decided to extend the authorisation for the two border crossings for another three months, ending on 13 August.
In recent months, securing funding for the myriad of new and ongoing humanitarian challenges in the country has continued to be difficult. At the time of writing, although the flash appeal for earthquake relief in Syria ($397.6 million) was fully funded, the humanitarian response plan for 2023 ($5.41 billion) was only 8.6 percent funded.
On 1 May, Jordan hosted a meeting of the foreign ministers of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria as a follow-up to the 14 April meeting of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, hosted by Saudi Arabia, which focused on the possibility of normalising relations with Syria and its readmission into the Arab League. In a statement after the meeting, the foreign ministers committed themselves to resolving the Syrian crisis through a political solution that preserves Syria’s sovereignty and strengthens conditions for the voluntary and safe return of refugees in a way that achieves national reconciliation and restores Syria’s security and stability. They also agreed to:
- continue the talks in accordance with an agreed timetable and in a way that integrates all international efforts;
- intensify efforts to work with the international community and the UN to accelerate the implementation of early recovery projects;
- enhance cooperation to advance efforts towards the exchange of abductees and detainees and search for missing persons;
- strengthen cooperation between the Syrian government, concerned countries, and the UN in formulating a comprehensive strategy to enhance security and combat terrorism;
- deepen cooperation between Syria, its neighbouring countries, and countries affected by drug trafficking across Syrian borders; and
- advance efforts to resume the work of the Constitutional Committee.
On 7 May, the League of Arab States (LAS) convened a ministerial-level extraordinary session in Cairo to discuss the situation in Syria. The ministers decided that the group would readmit Syria, whose LAS membership was suspended in 2011 because of the Syrian government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The decision established a ministerial group, comprising Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and LAS Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, to liaise with the Syrian government and seek a solution to the Syrian crisis through reciprocal steps.
On 19 May, the 32nd regular session of the LAS Council meeting was convened at summit level in Saudi Arabia. In a declaration, adopted at the meeting, the LAS leaders expressed hope that the decision to readmit Syria into the group will support the country’s stability and territorial integrity. The declaration stressed the “importance of continuing to intensify pan-Arab efforts aimed at helping Syria overcome its crisis”. In a press conference, following the meeting, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, while speaking about the normalisation of relations with the Syrian government, noted that Saudi Arabia understands “the point of view of the [US] and our partners in the west, but addressing the ongoing challenges requires a new approach and that will not come without dialogue”. He added that Saudi Arabia will continue the dialogue with the European countries and the US to address the challenges.
On 10 May, the foreign ministers of Iran, Russia, Syria, and Türkiye met in Moscow as part of the recent rapprochement efforts between Syria and Türkiye brokered by Russia. In a post on Twitter following the meeting, the Turkish foreign minister noted that he had stressed enhanced cooperation to fight terrorism, working together to establish the basis for the return of Syrian refugees, advancing the Syrian political process, and protecting Syria’s territorial integrity. In his opening remarks at the meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that the launch of the process for Türkiye-Syria normalisation “exerts a noticeable positive influence not only on the situation around Syria but on the overall atmosphere throughout the Middle East”. At the same time, according to a 10 May Reuters article, the Syrian foreign minister said that ending the illegal presence of all foreign militaries, including Türkiye’s, from Syrian territories remained a priority.
Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen has continued engagement with stakeholders through the “step-for-step” initiative. Through this initiative, Pedersen is asking the Syrian government, the opposition, regional states, and other stakeholders what concessions they are willing to make in exchange for reciprocal actions on matters such as abductees, detainees, and missing persons; humanitarian assistance and early recovery projects; and conditions for dignified, safe, and voluntary refugee returns.
In a 14 May post on Twitter, Pedersen noted that he had held a comprehensive discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian; his special advisor, Ali-Asghar Khaji; and other senior officials on Syria. He noted that the coordination between the UN and the Astana group (Russia, Türkiye, and Iran) is an important part of efforts to resume the work of the Constitutional Committee. He further noted his recent engagement with al-Saud, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi.
On 15 May, Pedersen met with Burak Akçapar, Türkiye’s deputy foreign minister. In a post on Twitter following the meeting, the Turkish foreign ministry noted that both parties discussed the latest developments in Syria and stressed the importance of advancing the political process in accordance with resolution 2254, including the Constitutional Committee.
On 30 May, the Council convened its monthly meeting on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. Pedersen, OCHA Deputy Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi and Middle East Regional Program Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council Morgane Aveline briefed. Mudawi provided an overview of the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the country and described the recent efforts of the UN and other actors to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria. She called for a 12-month extension of the Security Council authorisation of the cross-border mechanism, which is due to expire on 10 July. She added that OCHA aims to “broaden the geographical scope of missions to more areas of high severity of needs and less-served and less-covered locations”.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Security Council is how to alleviate the growing humanitarian needs in Syria. Periodic briefings from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and other OCHA officials have helped 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.
A related issue is ensuring the continued flow of humanitarian aid into northwest Syria.
Another key long-standing issue is finding a way to break the political impasse in Syria and to provide political support for the Special Envoy’s efforts in this regard.
The Council could consider adopting a presidential statement that:
- expresses strong concern about the growing humanitarian needs in the country;
- expresses strong support for the efforts of the UN and humanitarian actors on the ground;
- condemns attacks on civilians and underscores the need for the parties to the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law and human rights law;
- encourages donors to enhance their support for the Syrian humanitarian response plan;
- urges the Syrian government to facilitate unimpeded humanitarian access for the UN and other humanitarian agencies in the earthquake-affected areas; and
- expresses strong support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to reinvigorate the political process.
Strong divisions persist among Council members on the Syria file. China and Russia tend to be sympathetic to the Syrian government, emphasising the need to respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and drawing connections between unilateral sanctions on Syria and the dire humanitarian situation in the country. On the other hand, the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded members criticise the government for violating international humanitarian law and human rights law, arbitrarily detaining people, and not engaging meaningfully in political dialogue.
Council members also hold divergent views about normalising ties with the Syrian government. In the 27 April Council briefing, the US noted that it will not normalise relations with Syria and has discouraged other member states from doing so. It added that the US will not lift sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or support reconstruction in the absence of “genuine, comprehensive and enduring reforms and progress on the political process”. On the other hand, some Council members, including Russia, China, and the United Arab Emirates, support the normalisation of ties with the Syrian government.
On the humanitarian side, most members emphasise that the cross-border aid mechanism is essential to saving lives in Syria and strongly support its continuation. Other members, such as China and Russia, continue to argue that cross-border deliveries are extraordinary measures that undermine Syria’s sovereignty and should be supplanted as soon as possible by enhanced cross-line assistance.
Brazil and Switzerland are the penholders on Syrian humanitarian issues.
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.
|20 April 2023S/2023/284
|This was the Secretary-General’s 60-day report on the implementation of resolution 2672.
|Security Council Meeting Records
|27 April 2023S/PV.9314
|This was a briefing on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria.