March 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 February 2024
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Expected Council Action 

The Council expects to hold two meetings this month on Syria: one on the political and humanitarian issues and another on the chemical weapons track.

Key Recent Developments

The political track in Syria remains at a standstill, and the Syrian Constitutional Committee has not met since June 2022. Russia, a close ally of Syria, has been objecting to Geneva as the venue for convening the Constitutional Committee, following Switzerland’s imposition of sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. During his briefing at the 21 December 2023 Council meeting on Syria, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen said that “[t]he blockage of the Constitutional Committee for a year and a half—largely over what should be a secondary issue, namely, the venue—has sent the wrong signal and has been a setback”. He added that “no venue in the region…is both on offer and attracts consensus”, while calling on member states to respect the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, and UN-facilitated nature of the Constitutional Committee. Pedersen also appealed to members “to act in a manner that enables the Constitutional Committee to resume, at least initially in Geneva, and for reciprocal, verifiable and parallel confidence-building measures to be agreed and implemented”.

On 10 February, the Syrian government agreed to extend its consent for the delivery of humanitarian aid through the Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee border crossings at the Syria-Türkiye border by UN humanitarian agencies and their partners until 13 May. This follows the Syrian government’s 11 January decision to extend authorisation of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing at the Syria-Türkiye border until 13 July. In a recent statement, OCHA announced that these “extensions are crucial, as the UN’s cross-border operations remain a vital support system for people in north-west Syria”.

US forces in the Middle East have been increasingly targeted since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October 2023. On 7 February, Politico reported that over 160 attacks on US soldiers, mostly using drones and rockets, had been launched by Iranian proxies in Iraq, Jordan, and Syria since October. While these have largely been thwarted by US air defence systems, a US military facility known as Tower 22 in northeast Jordan was hit by an armed drone on 28 January. Kata’ib Hezbollah, a Shia militant group in Iraq supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, carried out the operation, which resulted in the deaths of three US service members and injured more than 40.

On 2 February, in response to the 28 January attack on Tower 22, the US launched retaliatory airstrikes against 85 targets in western Iraq and eastern Syria. In a statement, the US Central Command said that the strikes were conducted by numerous aircraft, including long-range B-1 bombers flown from the US, which dropped more than 125 precision munitions on several targets, including command and control operations centres; intelligence centres; rocket, missile, and uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) storage facilities; and logistics and munitions supply chain facilities used by Iraqi and Syrian militia groups and “their [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)] sponsors who facilitated attacks against US and Coalition forces”. The Iraqi government said that 16 people had been killed and 25 wounded, including civilians. In Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights—a UK-based monitoring group with a presence in the country—said that at least 23 people affiliated with the militias had been killed.

On 4 February, a drone attack reportedly conducted by Iran-backed militias hit a training base of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a primarily Kurdish group opposing the Syrian government, at the al-Omar oil facility in Deir-ez-Zor governorate in northeastern Syria. At least six SDF soldiers were killed in the attack. While US personnel were present in the area, no casualties were reported among them. In a 22 February Newsweek article, Syria’s permanent mission to the UN was reported as saying that “the presence of U.S. troops on Syrian territory is illegal, illegitimate, and constitutes a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and international law”.

On 5 February, at the request of Russia, the Council held a meeting on the 2 February US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria under the “threats to international peace and security” agenda item. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo briefed and expressed concern about the tensions engulfing the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October 2023. She reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for “all parties to step back from the brink and to consider the unbearable human and economic cost of a potential regional conflict”.

Airstrikes, allegedly by Israel, continue to target sites in Syria. According to media reports, airstrikes on 20 January killed five Iranian military figures—including the head of intelligence for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and his deputy—and several members of Syria’s security forces in Damascus. On 21 February, airstrikes killed two foreign nationals and one Syrian in the Kafr Sousa district of Damascus. While Israel has not commented on the January and February strikes, it has historically targeted sites associated with Iranian forces and affiliated militants in Syria.

On 22 December 2023, the Council received its most recent briefing on the Syria chemical weapons file. Adedeji Ebo, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, provided the briefing. He reported that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) had consulted with the Syrian authorities between 30 October and 5 November 2023, the first time such consultations had occurred in over two and a half years. Nonetheless, Ebo observed that “gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies…remain[ed] unresolved in the declaration submitted by the Syrian Arab Republic” with regard to its chemical weapons programme.

On 27 February, Pedersen (via videoconference) and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths briefed the Council on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria, respectively. Pedersen said that the Syrian parties had been unable to agree to an alternative to Geneva as the setting for Constitutional Committee meetings. In the interim, while continuing to search for such a site, he said that he would issue invitations to a potential ninth round of Syria’s Constitutional Committee in late April in Geneva, appealing to the Syrian parties to respond positively. While declaring that “in 2024 Syria’s humanitarian outlook looks bleak”, Griffiths welcomed the Syrian government’s recent decision to extend its permission for the use of the Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee border crossings for aid delivery. He added that cross-line deliveries also “must be pursued with vigour”.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 13 February, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a report on the experiences of Syrian returnees once they are back in their original areas and other host communities inside Syria. The report documents human rights violations and abuses against the returnees (particularly those returning from neighbouring countries) that are perpetrated by the Government of Syria, de facto authorities and other armed groups across the country. It also highlights the challenges Syrian women face, in particular, the discriminatory restrictions on their liberty to move freely and independently. The report calls on all parties to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is maintaining international attention to and support for the needs of the Syrian people at a time when international attention is largely focused on other crises, such as those in Gaza and Ukraine. As Griffith noted in his 27 February briefing to the Council, the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan garnered less than 40 percent of the funding required, which is “the worst-funded response plan since the start of the conflict”. One option would be for Council members to emphasise the importance of increasing support for Syria’s humanitarian needs in their statements in the open chamber.

The need to break the underlying political impasse in Syria and support the Special Envoy’s work in this regard is another key issue. The Council could consider adopting a presidential statement which backs Pedersen’s efforts to reinvigorate the political process.

Council Dynamics

Syria remains 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.

Switzerland is the penholder on the Syria humanitarian file.

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Security Council Resolution
18 December 2015S/RES/2254 This was the first resolution focused exclusively on a political solution to the Syrian crisis. It was adopted unanimously.
Security Council Meeting Record
21 December 2023S/PV.9517 This was a briefing on the political process and the humanitarian situation in Syria.

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