What's In Blue

Posted Thu 9 May 2019

Syria: Consultations on the Humanitarian Situation in Idlib

Tomorrow (10 May), at the request of the humanitarian penholders on Syria (Belgium, Germany and Kuwait), Security Council members will discuss the humanitarian impact of the recent escalation of hostilities in Idlib in consultations. OCHA’s Director of Operations and Advocacy, Reena Ghelani, will brief members.

Since mid-April, there has been an intensification of hostilities in Idlib—which is a part of one of the four “de-escalation” areas agreed by the Astana guarantors (Iran, Russia and Turkey) in 2017—that has included Syrian and Russian airstrikes and a ground offensive. In a 6 May statement, the Secretary-General expressed his alarm concerning reports of aerial attacks on population centres and civilian infrastructure resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties (dead and injured) and over 150,000 newly displaced persons. Between 29 April and 6 May, at least twelve health facilities were hit by airstrikes in northern Hama and Idlib and at least nine schools were hit.

Ghelani is expected to reiterate OCHA’s grave concerns at the negative impact of the intensified conflict on the civilian population, as a result of the offensive and the suspension of activities by humanitarian partners, who are often directly targeted. Before the escalation of hostilities since mid-April, the situation in Idlib was already dire, with 2.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than one million children. This includes 1.7 million internally displaced persons, many of whom have been displaced multiple times and have been living in camps for years.

Most Council members are expected to echo the Secretary-General’s call for all parties to uphold international humanitarian law, protect civilians and urgently de-escalate the situation. In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed a ceasefire and the establishment of a demilitarised zone along the contact line between armed groups and government troops in Idlib. (While Russia has fought in support of the Syrian government, Turkey has backed several armed opposition groups). Although there have been violations over the last few months, the current escalation is the most serious one since the agreement entered into force. Syria has considered the measure agreed by Turkey and Russia temporary and has stated that its objective is to regain control and fight terrorist groups in Idlib.  A Council-designated terrorist group, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, took control of most of Idlib in January. However, the Secretary-General has repeatedly stressed the need to prevent an all-out military offensive of disastrous humanitarian consequences. In a statement released today, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria warned that any further escalation in Idlib “would invariably result in a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe”.

Council members are expected to discuss the humanitarian consequences of the ongoing offensive and actions that could be taken to prevent it from escalating. However, Council members are likely to be divided over their assessment of the situation and potential next steps.

An issue that Council members may also discuss in the consultations are the operations of Turkey and its allies in Tal Rifaat, in northeastern Syria. The area is held by the Kurdish YPG militia, which is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and the escalation of hostilities started around the same time as the Idlib offensive.