What's In Blue

Posted Wed 3 Jun 2015

Syria: Briefing on 30 May Aleppo Attacks

Tomorrow morning (4 June), OCHA Operations Director John Ging will brief Security Council members on Syria under “any other business” following consultations on Burundi. Spain and New Zealand—supported by Jordan—requested a briefing on the 30 May attacks in Aleppo. A press statement is a possible outcome.

On 30 May, according to media reports, over 70 people were killed in Aleppo by barrel bombs dropped from government helicopters targeting a civilian market. The same day Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura strongly condemned the attacks saying it is “totally unacceptable that the Syrian air force attacks its own territory in an indiscriminate way, killing its own citizens, as it brutally happened today in Aleppo.”

Council members expect the briefing will focus on the 30 May attacks and the use of indiscriminate weapons, such as barrel bombs, as a consistent tactic employed by the government since late 2013. In addition, Council members will also likely be interested in a broader update on the humanitarian consequences resulting from the fighting around Aleppo that has intensified in recent weeks. While armed opposition groups continue to battle government forces, more recently an additional front has been added as rebel groups face the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which has advanced into northwestern Syria after seizing Palmyra in central Syria in May. The government and ISIS offensives threaten a strategic road that is the opposition forces’ last remaining supply line from Turkey—setting the stage again for a potential siege of Aleppo. Several Council members have characterised these battles around Aleppo as bringing to the fore two of the many issues in the humanitarian file that the Council has been unable to counter: aerial bombardment and besiegement. Council members expect Ging to reiterate that despite repeated demands in resolutions 2139, 2165 and 2191, the use of indiscriminate weapons by all parties, particularly Syrian authorities, as well as the use of siege tactics in Syria, largely by the government and ISIS, continues to escalate.

This is one of the rare occasions when Council members have agreed to have a meeting focused on the use of barrel bombs. Some Council members cited de Mistura’s explicit and strong condemnation of the government, the high death toll resulting from the 30 May attack as well as the changing set of actors fighting for Aleppo as factors that spurred tomorrow’s briefing. In addition, some Council members have also noted the overlap with the chemical weapons file as chlorine attacks have been allegedly delivered in barrel bombs, an issue raised in this morning’s consultations on implementation of resolution 2118. In contrast, many Council members expect that Russia will likely prefer to focus on terrorism and ISIS activities around Aleppo, rather than the violations committed by the government.

Regarding a possible press statement after tomorrow’s briefing, many Council members expect that a press statement issued on 31 October 2014 in response to a barrel bomb attack on a displaced persons camp in Idlib (SC/11626) may provide a likely model. However, in anticipation of Russian objections, few Council members believe that any such statement will be as specific about government culpability as de Mistura was in his statement. Since no text has been circulated, most members caution that it is too early to predict whether Council members will be able to find a consensus response to the 30 May attack.

Council members will have another opportunity to focus on these issues later this month when they receive their regular monthly briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria on 29 June. Meanwhile, the humanitarian leads—Jordan, New Zealand and Spain—are discussing with the P3 ways to strengthen the Council’s response to the use of siege tactics in Syria and the violation of the principle of medical neutrality.

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Postscript (5 June): Council members issued a press statment on attacks on civilians on 5 June.

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