May 2024 Monthly Forecast



Expected Council Action  

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

Key Recent Developments

Syria remains entrenched in a devastating civil war, now in its 14th year, marked by ongoing battles on multiple fronts and a lack of progress on the political process. According to OCHA, approximately 16.7 million people—nearly 70 percent of Syria’s population—remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance, with 15.4 million people facing acute food insecurity. This is the highest recorded number 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.

On 21 March,  Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya briefed the Council on the political and humanitarian tracks in Syria, respectively. Msuya 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. Moreover, the World Food Programme has cut back its emergency food assistance in the country owing to funding constraints, reducing aid distribution for nearly two million people per month. Syria’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), which called for $5.41 billion, was only 38.5 percent funded ($2.09 billion).

In a 17 April report, OCHA outlined critical funding gaps in humanitarian response in Syria from April to September. The report estimated that underfunding may threaten the well-being of over two million displaced Syrians, exacerbating humanitarian needs and protection risks amid an economic decline. It said that only 63 percent of hospitals and 52 percent of primary healthcare facilities are currently fully functional in the country, adding that hundreds of health facilities and mobile medical teams are facing the threat of immediate closure because of funding shortages. The report also stated that the humanitarian agencies require $1.9 billion over the next six months to assist 10.8 million people in need.

In his remarks at the 21 March Council meeting, Pedersen described the intensified hostilities in the country and stressed the urgent need for de-escalation and restoration of calm leading to a nationwide ceasefire. He 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 Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva at the end of April. (The Syrian opposition, represented by the Syrian Negotiations Commission, accepted Pedersen’s proposal.) Expressing concern about the conflict in Gaza and its regional ramifications, Pedersen said that “de-escalation there is essential, starting with an immediate humanitarian ceasefire”. (For more information, see our What’s in Blue story of 24 April.)

Hostilities continue across multiple frontlines in Syria. On 4 April, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that it had conducted an airstrike in Syria in which a senior leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) responsible for planning attacks in Europe had been killed. In a press release, the commander of CENTCOM, General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, said that ISIL/Da’esh continued to represent a threat to the region and beyond, adding that “the group remains able to conduct operations within the region with a desire to strike beyond the Middle East”.

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October 2023, Israel has allegedly increased its attacks against sites in Syria that it claims are associated with Iranian forces and affiliated militants. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)—a UK-based monitoring group with a presence in the country—Israel had conducted 35 attacks in Syria since the beginning of this year, as at 19 April.

In a 1 April letter, Iran informed Council members that earlier the same day, Iran’s diplomatic premises in Damascus were “intentionally targeted by missile air strikes” launched by Israel from the Golan Heights. The attack reportedly resulted in the deaths of at least four Syrian soldiers and seven Iranian personnel, including Mohamad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, and his deputy. While Israel claimed that the premises were being used for military purposes, Iran asserted that it maintains military advisers in the country with the consent of the Syrian government.

In a statement the next day (2 April), Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said that the Secretary-General “condemn[ed] the attack on diplomatic premises of Iran in Damascus…as well as the reported casualties”. He stressed the need to respect the principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises and personnel in accordance with international law. He called on all concerned parties to exercise utmost restraint and avoid further escalation.

Also on 2 April, the Council convened a briefing to discuss Israel’s attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. Briefing the Council at that meeting, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari expressed concern about escalating tensions and warned that any “miscalculation could lead to broader conflict in an already volatile region with devastating consequences for civilians” in Syria and the broader Middle East. Following the meeting, Russia apparently proposed a press statement condemning the Israeli attack. It seems that France, the UK, and the US rejected the draft text, citing uncertainty about the facts of the strike and the status of the Iranian facility attacked.

In response to Israel’s 1 April airstrike, Iran and its proxy groups in the region launched an attack on Israel on 13 April, consisting of 300 “aerial threats”, including approximately 170 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), 120 ballistic missiles, and 30 cruise missiles, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In a letter to the Council the same day, Israel accused Iran of stoking regional instability and called on the Council to “unequivocally condemn Iran for these grave violations and immediately act to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization”. The Council convened an emergency session the next day (14 April) at the request of Israel and received a briefing from Secretary-General António Guterres. (For more background and information, see our What’s in Blue story of 14 April on Iran’s airborne attack.)

According to SOHR, airstrikes on 19 April allegedly conducted by Israel targeted a radar system in the eastern countryside of Dara’a in Syria. This attack took place on the same day Israel reportedly targeted the city of Isfahan in central Iran, which hosts a military air base and research facilities associated with Iran’s nuclear program, according to media reports. In a statement the same day, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that there had been no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites. The statement called on all parties to exercise restraint, noting that nuclear facilities should not be a target in military conflicts.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 4 April, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Syria during its 55th session. Among other matters, the resolution extended the mandate of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (COI) for one year. It also requested the COI to present an oral update during an interactive dialogue at its 56th session and present an updated report during an interactive dialogue at its 57th and 58th sessions. The resolution was adopted with 27 votes in favour, five against, and 15 abstentions. Security Council members France, Japan, and the US voted in favour, whereas Algeria and China voted against the resolution.

On 25 April, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk briefed the UN General Assembly on the implementation of the resolution (A/RES/77/301) establishing the Independent Institution on Missing Persons in Syria. He informed the member states that the institution is currently working on preparing the briefing papers that will cover the core issues based on the feedback on consultations with relevant parties, including: recommendations to design and implement search plans; ensuring full participation of victims and civil society and effective gender inclusivity; and supporting victims and survivors through referrals. He emphasised the central role of victims and survivors in the functioning of the institution, adding that search and other forms of support in coordination with families and their representatives will be the central aims of its operations. He also called on member states and parties to the conflict in Syria to cooperate fully with the institution, including by exchanging information and facilitating processes of search, identification, assistance, and support to victims.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for Council members is the ongoing hostilities in Syria. Continuing violence and the lack of accountability threaten to destabilise the country further. At the same time, ISIL/Da’esh remains one of the key security threats in Syria.

Determining how the Council can address the spillover effects of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and de-escalate rising tensions in the region, including in Syria, is another important issue for the Council.

One option would be for the co-chairs of the Informal Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians (Switzerland and the UK) to hold a meeting on the situation in Syria to receive briefings from relevant UN entities about the impact of the conflict on civilians.

Another important issue for the Council is maintaining international attention on the situation in Syria when the focus has largely moved 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, Council members could advocate in their national statements for enhanced financial support for the humanitarian response in Syria, including at the upcoming EU-sponsored Brussels conference, scheduled to be held at the ministerial level on 27 May. Council members could also consider adopting a press statement calling on the international community to scale up the humanitarian response in Syria, including through enhanced funding.

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 holding a private meeting with relevant stakeholders to discuss the impediments to the resumption of the Constitutional Committee, including the issue of venue, and support Pedersen’s efforts to reinvigorate the political process. (The Syrian Constitutional Committee has not met since June 2022 because of 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.)

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.

Sign up for SCR emails

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.
Security Council Letters
1 April 2024S/2024/281 This was a letter from Iran, informing Council members about the attack on its diplomatic premises in Damascus on 1 April 2024.
Security Council Meeting Records
21 March 2024S/PV.9583 This was a briefing on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria.

Subscribe to receive SCR publications