Expected Council Action
In November, the Security Council is expected to hold a meeting on the political process and the humanitarian situation in Syria.
Key Recent Developments
On 19 September, humanitarian operations resumed through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing at the Syria-Türkiye border. The operations at the border crossing came to a halt following Russia’s 11 July veto of a Security Council resolution that would have reauthorised the Syria cross-border mechanism, which expired on 10 July. The mechanism allowed the delivery of humanitarian assistance into non-government-controlled parts of Syria without requiring the consent of the Syrian government. (For background, see the Syria brief in the September Monthly Forecast and the In Hindsight in the August Monthly Forecast.)
In a 6 August letter, addressed to the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, then-Permanent Representative of Syria to the UN Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh, announced the government’s decision to extend its authorisation for the use of the Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee border crossings until 13 November. The Syrian government had authorised these two border crossing points for the delivery of humanitarian aid from Türkiye into non-government-controlled areas of northern Syria for an initial period of three months, following the earthquakes that struck southeast Türkiye and northern Syria in February. The government’s 6 August letter also approved the use of cross-line operations—that is, across domestic conflict lines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control—in the cities of Sarmada and Saraqib for a six-month period until 1 February 2024.
At the time of writing, according to OCHA data, a total of 4,127 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies from seven UN agencies had crossed into north-west Syria from Türkiye since 9 February through the three border crossings: Bab al-Hawa (3,258 trucks), Bab al-Salam (774 trucks), and Al Ra’ee (95 trucks).
On 27 September, the Council met on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria. UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen, Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division Edem Wosornu, and Regional Vice President (Middle East and North Africa) at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Su’ad Jarbawi briefed. Pedersen said that several stakeholders had apprised him of their support for the resumption of the Constitutional Committee, including the Syrian parties, members of the Astana format (Iran, Russia, and Türkiye), the Arab ministerial liaison committee (comprising Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and League of Arab States Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit), and Western members. He further noted that he seeks to continue the consultations to resume the committee’s work before the end of this year. Wosornu noted that the reopening of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing is the result of an understanding with the Syrian government; of operational and security assurances from the de facto authorities in Idlib; and of consultations with a range of member states, including Türkiye and donors, non-governmental organisations, and other partners. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 27 September.)
The region has witnessed a sharp rise in hostilities in recent months. On 5 October, a drone strike, reportedly conducted by unidentified anti-government forces, hit a Syrian military academy in Homs during a graduation ceremony, killing at least 100 people, according to media reports. In a statement the same day, Pedersen expressed concern about escalating violence in Syria, in particular the drone attack in Homs, and reports of escalating “pro-government” shelling and rocket fire into Idlib in response. He appealed to all sides to exercise utmost restraint and emphasised the need to immediately de-escalate violence and adopt a cooperative approach to counter Security Council-listed terrorist groups, in line with resolution 2254 of 18 December 2015. He further noted that the status quo in Syria is unsustainable and that in the absence of a meaningful political path to implementing resolution 2254, the overall situation in Syria would continue to deteriorate. (For more, see our October 2023 Monthly Forecast.)
It appears that Russia proposed a draft press statement condemning the drone attack on the military academy in Homs. Apparently, it emphasised the need to hold perpetrators of acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice. It seems that Council members failed to adopt the statement because of a lack of consensus as to whether the attack could be considered an act of terrorism.
According to a 23 October OCHA press release, at least 59 people had been killed, more than one-third of whom were children, as a result of the recent escalation in hostilities across Idlib and western Aleppo. It added that these incidents had also affected more than two dozen health facilities. It further noted that at least six children under the age of ten were reportedly killed in airstrikes in Qarqour, Hama, on 22 October.
On 12 October, airstrikes allegedly conducted by Israel hit the airports in Aleppo and Damascus, putting them out of service, according to a Reuters article. The article added that, according to sources, the airstrikes were intended to disrupt Iranian supply lines to Syria. According to Syrian state media, the airports were targeted again by Israel on 22 October, resulting in the death of one person.
According to media reports, following the 7 October attack against Israel by the Palestinian armed group Hamas, there has been an uptick in attacks against the US forces stationed in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based human rights monitoring organisation, said that on 19 October, Iranian-backed militias attacked the international coalition base in the Al-Tanf area and the Koniko gas field in the Deir Ezzor countryside. In a 23 October press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder confirmed that there had been an attempted drone strike at the Al-Tanf base in Syria earlier the same day. He added that the US is “concerned about a broader escalation of these attacks in the days ahead”.
Following Hamas’ attack on Israel, the US deployed a naval strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford in the eastern Mediterranean Sea “in order to deter any actor seeking to escalate the situation or widen this war”, according to a 10 October press release by the US Central Command.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 15 September, during its 54th session, the Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue on the report of the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Alena Douhan, (A/HRC/54/23/Add.1) dated 3 July. In her remarks, Douhan said that “enforcement of unilateral sanctions and instances of over-compliance prevented countries from any possibility to exercise fully their obligations to guarantee the right to health”. She added that such measures “undermined national efforts towards strong and reliable healthcare systems and constituted violations of the right to health by sanctioning States”.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is to ensure the continued flow of humanitarian aid to those in need in north-west Syria. A related and broader issue is how to alleviate the growing humanitarian needs throughout the country. The deteriorating socioeconomic conditions are also of concern.
Another important issue for Council members is the ongoing hostilities in the region and the risk of escalation.
Periodic briefings from OCHA have helped keep the Council informed of the humanitarian situation on the ground. Council members could consider inviting representatives of Syrian humanitarian aid organisations to engage with them to explore avenues for improving and expanding aid delivery mechanisms, including early recovery projects, in 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. One option would be for the Council to hold a private meeting with Pedersen and interested member states with influence over the parties in Syria to discuss recent developments and ways to make progress on the political track.
Over the years, Syria has been one of the most divisive files on the Council’s agenda. China and Russia are supportive of the Syrian government, emphasising the need to respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and drawing connections between unilateral coercive measures on Syria and the challenging humanitarian situation in the country. In contrast, 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.
Following Russia’s 11 July veto, Council members continue to hold differing opinions on whether the provision for the reporting requirements set out by resolution 2672, which was the final Council authorisation of the cross-border aid mechanism, remains in effect. It appears that Russia takes the position that the absence of a resolution reauthorising the cross-border aid mechanism nullifies the effect of all provisions contained in previous resolutions, including the reporting requirements. Some other Council members apparently take the view that the reporting requirements as outlined in resolution 2139 of 2013, which focused on the humanitarian situation in Syria, remain in effect; these included reporting on access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas and humanitarian access for the UN and its implementing partners across conflict lines and borders.
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.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|27 September 2023S/PV.9426||This was a meeting on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria.|