April 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 March 2024
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Expected Council Action  

In April, the Security Council will hold a meeting on the political process and the humanitarian situation in Syria.    

Key Recent Developments  

The civil war in Syria entered its 14th year on 15 March. While the fighting continues, the political process remains at a stalemate, and approximately 16.7 million Syrians remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance, 12.9 million of whom face food insecurity. This is the highest recorded share of people requiring humanitarian assistance at any time during Syria’s civil war. Since 2011, over 14 million Syrians have been displaced, including 7.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), according to UNHCR.  

In a 9 March statement marking the anniversary of the Syrian conflict, Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the devastating impact of the 13-year-long conflict on the Syrian population, noting that “arbitrary detention, mass incarceration, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, sexual and gender-based violence, torture, and other ill-treatment, continue and are an obstacle to sustainable peace in Syria”. He emphasised the importance of reaching a genuine and credible political solution in line with resolution 2254 of 18 January 2015 and creating the conditions necessary for the voluntary return of refugees in safety and dignity. Among other points, he called for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, a cooperative and strategic approach to counter-terrorism, and sustained and unhindered humanitarian access throughout the country.  

On 17 March, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen met with Syrian Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad in Damascus. During a press stakeout, Pedersen said that during the meeting, he presented his proposal for reconvening the Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva until the government and the opposition can find another mutually agreeable venue. The Constitutional Committee has not met since June 2022 owing to the opposition of Russia, a close ally of Syria, to Geneva as the venue, following Switzerland’s imposition of sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.  

On 21 March, Pedersen and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya briefed the Council on the political and humanitarian tracks in Syria, respectively. Pedersen underscored that Syria faces a negative trajectory with respect to political, security, humanitarian, human rights, and economic conditions. Noting that the political track remains “blocked and dormant”, he urged the Syrian government to “engage in a deepened and concrete dialogue” and said that it had rejected his offer to hold the ninth round of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva at the end of April. (The Syrian opposition, represented by the Syrian Negotiations Commission [SNC], accepted Pedersen’s proposal). 

In her remarks at the meeting, Msuya provided an overview of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. She highlighted that funding shortages for relief efforts had significantly curtailed the ability of humanitarian organisations to provide assistance in the country. In some cases, she pointed out, these shortages had led to the scaling back of health services in several areas: in north-west Syria, for instance, over 30 outpatient therapeutic feeding programmes for malnourished children have been forced to close since October 2023 and over 75 nutrition rapid response teams–about half the total–have suspended operations. Syria’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), which required $5.41 billion, had received 37.8% percent funding ($2.04 billion), $31 million less than the 2022 HRP, which required $4.44 billion.  

Heavy flooding in several parts of north-west Syria has further exacerbated the humanitarian situation. According to a 22 March OCHA press release, flooding at several displacement camps in Idlib and northern Aleppo during the preceding two days affected more than 15,700 people. Since the start of this year, more than 3,300 family tents have been damaged and some 500 tents have been completely destroyed as a result of over 100 flooding incidents in north-west Syria, the press release added. 

Recent weeks have seen a decline in attacks against US forces stationed in the Middle East, which had increased in the months following the start of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October 2023. Some reports have attributed this to the US response to a 28 January attack against its military facility known as Tower 22 in north-east Jordan, in which three US service members were killed. On 2 February, the US launched retaliatory airstrikes against 85 targets in western Iraq and eastern Syria, which reportedly killed at least 23 people affiliated with the militias, in Syria. On 7 February, the US Central Command announced that it had conducted an airstrike in Iraq in which a commander of Kata’ib Hezbollah—a Shia militant group in Iraq supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—“responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces in the region” had been killed. (For background, see the Syria brief in our March 2024 Monthly Forecast.) 

Airstrikes, allegedly conducted by Israel, continue to target sites in Syria. According to media reports, on 17 March, airstrikes launched from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights hit two military sites in the Qalamoun mountains in the north-east of Damascus, injuring one soldier. On 19 March, missile strikes targeted several military installations outside Damascus, which media reports suggest were weapons depots for Hezbollah.  

On 26 March, airstrikes targeting positions in Deir-ez-Zor and Al-Bukamal and its surroundings left at least 15 people dead, including one IRGC member, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)—a UK-based monitoring group with a presence in the country. This attack also resulted in the death of a staff member of the World Health Organization. While the SOHR reported that the airstrikes were conducted by “unidentified aircraft”, Syrian state media accused the US of the attack. During a press conference later that day, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh denied these claims. At the same time, Israeli media reports suggest that the Israeli Defense Forces were responsible for the attack.  

In the latest round of attacks, the SOHR reported that on 29 March, airstrikes allegedly conducted by Israel hit several targets across Aleppo, including Hezbollah’s weapons warehouse in the Jabrin area, near Aleppo international airport, and Syrian air defence facilities in Al-Safirah. At the time of writing, the attack had resulted in the deaths of at least 42 people, including 36 Syrian soldiers and six Hezbollah fighters, which SOHR reported as “the highest death toll ever among regime forces in a single Israeli attack in Syrian territory, and… the most violent attack by Israeli forces on Syria in the past three years”. While Israel has not commented on these strikes, it has historically targeted sites associated with Iranian forces and affiliated militants in Syria. 

Human-Rights Related Developments 

On 11 March, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (COI) released its latest report, covering the period from 1 July to 31 December 2023. During this period, the report said, the conflict in Syria was characterised by increased confrontation and infighting among the various authorities and forces controlling areas in the country, with north-west Syria witnessing the largest escalation of hostilities since 2019-20. The report provided evidence documenting that across multiple frontlines, parties to the conflict have attacked civilians and infrastructure in ways that are likely to amount to war crimes. The report highlighted the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria, noting that approximately 90 percent of the population lives in poverty, while increased lawlessness is fuelling predatory practices and extortion by armed forces and militias.  

In an 18 March statement, COI Chair Paulo Pinheiro described the intensified hostilities across multiple frontlines in Syria and stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire and an inclusive path towards a “just political settlement”. He said that “since 7 October and Israel’s Gaza onslaught, attacks between the US and alleged Iran-backed groups, as well as strikes by Israel, have significantly increased”. He added that some of the strikes that Israel has conducted in Syria since then have hit Syria’s major airports, affecting UN humanitarian air services. Da’esh (also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has also been increasing its attacks against civilians, which he said may amount to war crimes. The prospects of a political settlement for Syria appeared more remote than ever, he said, pointing out that there has been little to no progress on some key issues such as security, refugees, and drugs.  

On 19 March, the COI published a policy paper titled “Punishing the Innocent: Ending violations against children in Northeast Syria”. Highlighting the violations and crimes against children in north-east Syria, the paper said that “some 30,000 Syrian and foreign children remain unlawfully deprived of their liberty” because of their, or their families’, alleged links to Da’esh. The COI called on the Syrian government to enable voluntary and safe return of children to their homes in government-controlled areas and facilitate pathways for all children residing in Syria to access affordable and recognised official documentation. It also recommended that UN member states take immediate steps to ease the registration of children of foreign nationals born in Syria, to facilitate their repatriation, to prevent a situation of statelessness created during the armed conflict, and provide adequate funding for humanitarian responses for all children, including gender- and age-sensitive health, education, shelter, livelihood, reintegration and rehabilitation programmes.   

Key Issues and Options 

A key issue for Council members is the ongoing hostilities in Syria. Determining how the Council can address the spillover effects from the situation in Israel and Gaza and de-escalate tensions is an important issue for the Council. Continuing violence and the lack of accountability threaten to destabilise the country further. At the same time, Da’esh remains one of the key security threats in Syria. One option would be for the co-chairs (Switzerland and the UK) of the Informal Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians to hold a meeting on the situation in Syria to receive briefings from relevant UN entities on the impact of the conflict on civilians.  

Another important issue for the Council is maintaining international attention to the situation in Syria when it is largely focused on other crises, such as those in Gaza and Ukraine. As well, a key issue is how to alleviate the growing humanitarian needs throughout the country. In this regard, members could consider calling for an international donor conference to garner additional funds for humanitarian assistance in Syria. A press statement calling on the international community to scale up the humanitarian response would be another option.   

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 that 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 Resolutions
18 December 2015S/RES/2254 This was the first resolution focused exclusively on a political solution to the Syrian crisis. It was adopted unanimously.

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