What's In Blue

Posted Wed 28 Jun 2023

Syria: Briefing and Consultations on Political and Humanitarian Developments

Tomorrow morning (29 June), Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths are expected to provide the monthly briefings on the political and humanitarian situations in Syria, respectively. Consultations are scheduled to follow.

This is likely to be the Council’s last meeting on Syria before the expiry of resolution 2672 of 9 January, which confirmed the extension of the authorisation for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism until 10 July. Through this mechanism, humanitarian assistance is delivered to Syria from Türkiye via the Bab al-Hawa crossing without requiring the consent of the Syrian government.

Griffiths is expected to provide an overview of the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the country. The devastating consequences of the 6 February earthquake, an outbreak of cholera, and ongoing conflict are among the factors contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The World Health Organization (WHO) said in an 18 June situation report that 132,782 suspected cases of cholera, including 104 deaths attributed to the disease, were reported across the country between 25 August 2022 and 20 May.

Griffiths may describe recent efforts by the UN and other actors to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria, both cross-line (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) and cross-border. He might mention that, on 23 June, a UN cross-line delivery was conducted from Aleppo to Sarmada in north-west Syria, comprising a convoy of ten trucks carrying nearly 220 tons of humanitarian supplies for 22,000 people—including food, wheat flour, mobile storage units, hygiene kits, and health items. According to OCHA data, at the time of writing, a total of 3,260 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies from seven UN agencies have crossed to north-west Syria from Türkiye since 9 February through three border crossings: Bab al-Hawa (2,748 trucks), Bab al-Salam (433 trucks), and Al Ra’ee (79 trucks).

At tomorrow’s meeting, the briefers and several Council members are expected to express support for the reauthorisation of the cross-border aid mechanism. Both the Secretary-General’s 9 June special report on humanitarian needs in Syria and his regular 60-day report on the humanitarian situation in Syria, dated 22 June, note that cross-border assistance remains an essential part of the operation of the UN and its partners, which reaches 4.1 million people, 80 percent of whom are women and children. Both reports say that a 12-month renewal of the cross-border aid mechanism by the Council is critical.

Council members may want to hear more about Griffiths’ 26 June meeting in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. In a Twitter post, Griffiths said that the meeting focused on issues relating to humanitarian assistance in Syria and avenues to engage the wider region around early recovery priorities. On the same day, Griffiths also met Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad for a discussion on the humanitarian situation in the country.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Griffiths may also provide an update on early recovery projects in Syria. These projects focus on the rebuilding of critical infrastructure, the removal of solid waste, and vocational training, among other areas. According to the Secretary-General’s 9 June special report on humanitarian needs in Syria, between January 2022 and 20 April, at least 495 projects supporting early recovery efforts have been undertaken across all 14 governorates of the country and donors have provided $640.5 million to support these projects.

Regarding the political track, 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 his recent engagement with regional stakeholders aimed at reconvening the Constitutional Committee and promoting his “step-for-step” initiative. 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 such matters as abductees, detainees, and missing persons; humanitarian assistance and early recovery projects; and conditions for dignified, safe, and voluntary refugee returns.

On 9 June, Pedersen met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for discussions on how to strengthen Syrian political process in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254 of 18 December 2015. At the meeting, Pedersen also highlighted the need to reconvene the Constitutional Committee. On 15 June, in an effort to advance the Syrian political process, Pedersen held discussions with numerous stakeholders, including Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, German Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office Tobias Lindner, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, and European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič.

The briefers and several Council members may also take note of the EU-sponsored seventh Brussels Conference, titled “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”, convened on 14 and 15 June. Conference participants pledged €5.6 billion, including €4.6 billion for 2023 and €1 billion for 2024 and future years. The funding aims to support people inside Syria and in neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees. The amount pledged was less than last year’s annual Brussels conference, where participants pledged €6.4 billion for 2022 and future years.

In his 15 June remarks at the Brussels conference, Pedersen called for ensuring adequate funding for addressing humanitarian needs and noted that swift disbursements of the funding are needed to support the Syrian people as well as host communities in the wider region. He added that he is engaging with relevant parties in a renewed effort to reconvene the Constitutional Committee in Geneva as soon as possible. Regarding the renewed political attention on Syria, he noted that “if this opportunity is seized and if players coordinate and work together, I am convinced that it is possible to move forward”. (For background on recent political developments in Syria, see our June Forecast Brief.)

Council members may also be interested in hearing Pedersen’s assessment of the most recent meeting of the members of the configuration referred to as the Astana guarantors (Russia, Türkiye, and Iran), held on 20 and 21 June. The meeting was attended by Pedersen, representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition, and officials from observer countries (Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon). On 21 June, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq said that Pedersen stressed in his engagements with the relevant stakeholders the need for all players to work together for a political solution in line with resolution 2254.

The briefers and Council members are likely to express concern about the recent escalation of hostilities in north-west Syria. According to media reports, on 25 June, Russian airstrikes hit a market outside the city of Jisr al-Shughour in the Idlib governorate, killing at least 11 civilians. In a 26 June statement, Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis David Carden expressed deep concerns about the previous day’s escalation of hostilities in north-west Syria and called on all parties to the conflict to take all necessary measures to ensure that civilians and civilian infrastructure are protected, in accordance with international humanitarian law. Between 1 April and 26 May, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented several incidents related to the hostilities across the country, which resulted in the killing of 77 civilians, including seven women and 15 children, and the injury of at least 31 civilians, including two women and 13 children.

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