Syria Briefing and Consultations
This afternoon (24 October), Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller will provide the scheduled monthly briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari is expected to brief on political developments; his briefing responds to a request by France earlier this week that a representative from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) brief the Council. A representative of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is also expected to brief, at the request of Russia. Consultations are scheduled to follow the briefing.
The briefing follows two weeks of fighting in north-eastern Syria, after Turkey launched a cross-border military operation on 9 October that it asserts was conducted in self-defence to secure its border and fight terrorists. Turkey considers the Kurdish forces against whom the operation was directed to be terrorists. Following several days of fighting, US Vice President Mike Pence met on 17 October with Turkish President Erdoğan in Ankara, agreeing on a 120-hour pause in the fighting to allow Kurdish troops to withdraw from a “safe zone” approximately 20 miles wide along the border, paving the way for a ceasefire. Subsequently, under an agreement reached by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdoğan in Sochi on 22 October, Russia and Syria agreed to patrol part of the border area and oversee the withdrawal of Kurdish forces 30 kilometres from the border over a period of 150 hours. Following this time period (that is, beginning the evening of 29 October), Russia and Turkey will patrol sections of the border east and west of where the Turkish military operation was conducted and 10 kilometres into Syria, with the exception of Qamishli city.
Mueller will most likely provide an overview of the rapidly unfolding humanitarian situation in north-eastern Syria. She will probably update members on the impact of the fighting on civilians, including with regard to casualties and displacement. By October 20, OCHA estimated that over 176,000 civilians had been displaced as a result of the hostilities. Given the shift in control of the area with the departure of Kurdish forces, members may be interested in information about who will now administer cross-border aid from Iraq. They may further want to hear Mueller’s views on the impact on the Turkish operation on humanitarian access in the north-east in general. More generally, members may be interested in how OCHA and its partners are assessing the evolving needs of the population in north-eastern Syria, and managing the humanitarian response in light of these recent events.
The potential return of refugees from Turkey to north-eastern Syria could also be raised in the discussion. Since Turkey has indicated an interest in repatriating Syrian refugees, a number of Council members may emphasise the importance of their return being both safe and voluntary, in keeping with international humanitarian law, especially given concerns about the security and humanitarian situation in the area.
Mueller may also discuss the situation in northwestern Syria. She may note that further fighting in Idlib would endanger and displace more civilians, and in this regard, some members may reiterate calls for a permanent ceasefire there. On 30 August, Russia announced a unilateral ceasefire that was confirmed by the Syrian government and has led to a reduction in violence, but concerns persist that the fighting there could flare up again, with devastating humanitarian consequences.
The briefing may also include a reference to Rukban camp in southeastern Syria. This could include a discussion of the difficult humanitarian conditions in the camp, and efforts to assist people leaving the camp.
Khiari may provide details of the recently-agreed deal between Russia and Turkey on northeastern Syria. He may emphasise the need for maximum restraint among the parties in this area and call for the ceasefire to be permanent. He may further address reports that some ISIL fighters have escaped the custody of Kurdish fighters during the recent Turkish military operation. Members may be interested in learning how ISIL detention centres that had been administered by Kurdish forces will now be managed in areas from which the Kurds have fled. Several Council members are also acutely mindful of the ongoing challenges posed by the presence in the territory of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and their relatives, and this issue could be raised in the meeting as well. There may also be discussion of whether the recent fighting has had any impact on the timeline for convening the first meeting of the Syrian Constitutional Committee on 30 October in Geneva.
The UNMAS representative may note how the existence of explosive ordnance has killed and injured civilians and hampered the ability to provide humanitarian aid to populations in need in Idlib, Aleppo, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and other parts of Syria. Members might be interested in learning about the challenges facing UNMAS operations in Syria, including with regard to surveying and removing explosive hazards, as well as efforts to educate populations about the risks of such hazards in the country.