What's In Blue

Posted Wed 22 Mar 2023

Syria: Briefing and Consultations on Political and Humanitarian Developments

Tomorrow morning (23 March), Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen and OCHA Acting Director of Operations and Advocacy Tareq Talahma are expected to provide the monthly briefings on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria, respectively. Consultations are scheduled to follow.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Talahma is expected to provide an overview of the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the country and describe the recent efforts of the UN and other actors to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria. Syria continues to grapple with the devastating humanitarian consequences of the 6 February earthquake and its aftershocks. According to OCHA’s 16 March situation report, at least 5,791 people have reportedly been killed and 10,041 injured in Syria, including 4,377 reported deaths and 7,692 reported injured in north-west Syria.

According to data provided by OCHA, at the time of writing, a total of 937 trucks loaded with aid from seven UN agencies have crossed to north-west Syria from Türkiye since 9 February through three border crossings: Bab al-Hawa (729 trucks), Bab al-Salam (169 trucks), and Al Ra’ee (39 trucks). Council members may wish to learn more about efforts being undertaken to intensify cross-line operations (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) and coordination with the Syrian government to provide aid in non-government-controlled areas. Council members may also wish to learn more about the scale and reach of OCHA’s operations.

At tomorrow’s meeting Talahma may take note of the recent visit by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths to Syria on 21 March, where he met Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad. On 21 March, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq said that during these meetings Griffiths had emphasised the need for expanded humanitarian access to continue  to address the growing needs throughout Syria.

In his 28 February briefing to the Council, Griffiths highlighted the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, noting that the earthquakes have destroyed entire neighbourhoods, rendering them uninhabitable. He added that the opening of additional border crossings–Bab Al-Salam and Al-Ra’ee–have allowed the UN and its humanitarian partners to access people in need more quickly and efficiently across north-west Syria. At the same time, he mentioned that growing demand, scarcity of critical items, and rising prices have strained the supply chains and that essential markets are unable to readily support cross-border operations for some core relief items. Regarding the resumption of cross-line operations, he noted that the UN continues to liaise with the relevant parties to explore all viable options.

On 11 March, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi concluded a five-day visit to earthquake-affected areas of Syria and Türkiye. He visited the areas of Latakia, Hama and Damascus and undertook a cross-border visit to earthquake-affected areas in north-west Syria. In a 13 March press release, Grandi noted that “much more humanitarian aid and early recovery resources are needed” to allow the people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members are expected to express deep concern about the worsening health situation, including the rising cholera cases, in the country. According to the 16 March situation report, the healthcare system is at risk of collapse in some areas. OCHA’s 28 February situation report on the cholera outbreak in Syria notes that 92,649 suspected cases, including 101 deaths attributed to the disease, were reported across the country between 25 August 2022 and 15 February. In this context, Talahma may describe the UN system’s support for efforts to curtail the spread of cholera in Syria.

Some Council members are also likely to express concerns about the continued hostilities in parts of Syria. On 16 March, Council members held a meeting on Syria under “any other business” at the request of China and Russia. OCHA’s Deputy Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi and Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenča briefed Council members on the impact of the 7 March airstrikes that hit the Aleppo airport on the delivery of the humanitarian aid aimed at mitigating the consequences of the earthquakes. The airport was forced to shut down and all flights carrying earthquake aid were diverted to Damascus and Latakia, according to the Syrian Ministry of Transport. The Aleppo airport was struck by Israeli airstrikes today (22 March), according to Syrian officials, making it the third attack on the airport in the last six months. According to a 22 March Reuters article, regional intelligence sources said that the 22 March airstrikes “hit an underground munitions depot linked to the nearby Nairab military airport, where missile systems delivered on several Iranian military planes had been stored”.

Briefers and several Council members might call for enhanced funding from the international community to support the humanitarian response in Syria. At the time of writing, the flash appeal for Syria was 78.6 percent funded and the humanitarian response plan was 5.7 percent funded.

On 20 March, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Prime Minister of Sweden, Ulf Kristersson, co-hosted an international donors’ conference bringing together 60 delegations from the EU and its member states and partners, including the UN and international financial institutions. The conference culminated with a total pledge of €950 million in grants for Syria.

Pedersen is likely to report that the political track in Syria remains at a standstill and highlight that the Syrian Constitutional Committee has not met since June 2022. At a press briefing on 8 March, Pedersen noted that the work of the Constitutional Committee should not be held hostage to issues that have nothing to do with Syria. He added that the committee needs to reconvene and move forward on substance.

In his 28 February briefing to the Council, Pedersen noted that that the unresolved political challenges in Syria will pose obstacles as the focus moves from emergency response to recovery. In this regard, he added that the approach of seeking reciprocal and verifiable confidence-building measures through the “step-for-step” initiative remains critical in making further progress. Through this initiative, Pedersen is asking the Syrian government, the opposition, regional states, and other stakeholders what concessions they are willing to make in exchange for reciprocal actions from others on matters such as abductees, detainees, and missing persons; humanitarian assistance and early recovery projects; and conditions for dignified, safe, and voluntary refugee returns.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to express support for Pedersen’s efforts to advance the Syrian political process. They may be interested in learning more about the Special Envoy’s recent engagement with regional stakeholders aimed at reconvening the Constitutional Committee and promoting his “step-for-step” initiative. On 14 February, Pedersen held a meeting with Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi in Amman, during which they discussed the humanitarian situation in Syria and the “efforts to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis”, according to a tweet by Jordan’s Foreign Ministry.

Pedersen met Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on 13 March in Cairo. In a Twitter post, the spokesperson for the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that the meeting had focused on the coordination between the UN and Egypt for “advancing the political solution in Syria and alleviating the suffering” of the Syrian people.

On 15 March, Pedersen met Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, in Riyadh. They discussed the latest developments in Syria and the region, and also “exchanged views on issues of common concern”, according to a tweet by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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