The brief lull in fighting in north-west Syria — in the wake of February’s devastating earthquakes — is giving way to a creeping rise in shelling exchanges, rocket fire and cross-line raids by terrorist groups, senior United Nations officials warned the Security Council today, while describing “astounding” physical destruction and massive humanitarian needs on the ground.
Geir O. Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, welcomed the growing international attention to the crisis in the country, declaring: “It is absolutely vital to continue to provide resources to support the emergency response to the earthquakes, while also continuing to support the broader humanitarian response.” Noting the immense suffering arising from the earthquake and the ongoing conflict, he said the earthquake response requires a sustained calm, as was seen in the weeks following the natural disaster. “For brief moments, the unimaginable became real — parties on each side of the front line largely refraining from hostilities,” he said.
Since then, however, he noted a creeping rise in hostilities, including air strikes on Aleppo International Airport — attributed to Israel — which resulted in damage and impacted humanitarian operations. Emphasizing the need to avert a broader escalation “at all costs”, he said sustained calm will also be an essential ingredient of donor confidence as they consider supporting rehabilitation and recovery efforts. Meanwhile, the recent agreement to reopen previously closed border crossings to humanitarian aid delivery — as well as new openings in sanctions regimes — shows that the parties can make constructive moves. “I sense, from all the discussions I have had, that there is an opportunity to move forward with additional moves on all sides, beyond the immediate emergency,” he said.
Tareq Talahma, Acting Director of the Operations and Advocacy Division of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said more than 56,000 people are now recorded to have died in the earthquakes that struck Türkiye and Syria in February. Thousands of survivors continue to seek treatment for physical injury and trauma, while the physical destruction has also been astounding. The United Nations has provided some 2.2 million people with food and cash transfers, carried out more than 1.1 million medical consultations and provided water and sanitation services to almost 380,000 people. It also continues to conduct daily missions in earthquake-affected areas, delivering assistance, assessing the structural integrity of buildings and identifying protection requirements.
He nevertheless emphasized that much more must be done in the weeks ahead — collective shelters must be decongested, adequate housing must be supported, and safe, voluntary and dignified return must be facilitated. “The pressures show no sign of easing,” he stressed, as food prices have almost doubled over the past year, water supplies are becoming less certain in many areas and sufficient livelihoods remain elusive for too many in Syria. The 2023 humanitarian response plan for Syria is the largest in the world but stands at only 6 per cent funded, he said, calling for stepped-up efforts by the global community.
As Council members and other concerned delegations took the floor, many speakers echoed pleas for donors to fund Syria’s dire humanitarian needs at a greater scale and more accelerated pace. Some strongly condemned the air strikes on Aleppo International Airport, which is being used as a delivery point for critical humanitarian aid. Delegates also voiced diverging opinions about the growing number of States working to normalize relations with Syria in the wake of the latest tragedy, with some speakers warning against ever accepting a dictator who has committed atrocity crimes against his own people.
On that point, the representative of the United States declared: “The earthquake has not transformed [President Bashar] Al-Assad into a statesman worthy of embrace.” Recalling that the Assad regime is the same one that carried out attacks on schools and hospitals and used chemical weapons on civilians, he said efforts to alleviate suffering and reach a political settlement must once again take centre stage. The regime has never seriously sought peace, but rather committed atrocities and hid behind its patrons, the Russian Federation and Iran, he stressed, emphasizing that ending the conflict will require that the regime engage in good faith in the United Nations-facilitated process, as required by resolution 2254 (2015).
The representative of Ghana, also speaking for Gabon and Mozambique, said there has never been a more critical time to demonstrate international support for the people of Syria — including through more resources. Thanking donors that contributed at a recent funding conference in Brussels, he said about $85 million more is still needed to fully fund the Syria flash appeal, while the country’s broader humanitarian response plan remains over 90 per cent underfunded. “The people of Syria therefore continue to count on our support […] and we must not let them down,” he said, deploring the unrelenting military hostilities amidst the current tragedy — including by the terrorist groups Da’esh and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham — and condemning the air strike on Aleppo’s airport.
China’s representative, noting that the humanitarian situation in north-west Syria has been “tugging at the heartstrings of the international community” since the first earthquake struck, said more progress is now needed to improve cross-line relief operations into the country’s north-west. Meanwhile, the safe operation of Aleppo International Airport must be guaranteed, and the “temporary relaxation” of sanctions must be made permanent. Emphasizing that the long-term systemic damage caused by those measures can never be covered up, he added that all foreign forces must end their illegal presences in Syria and stop their plundering of the country’s natural resources.
Striking a similar tone, the representative of the Russian Federation rejected the continued occupation of the resource-rich trans-Euphrates region by the United States, which is hampering humanitarian response operations. That country and its satellites are violating Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and attempting to deny the country its right to develop independently. Despite humanitarian exemptions in sanctions, the delivery of heavy construction equipment to Syria — which is needed to remove the rubble created by the earthquake — has not been possible, he said, also citing such challenges as banking overcompliance and the United Nations disparate attitude towards cross-border and cross-line aid.
Syria’s delegate said letters sent by his country to the Council over the last 12 years — detailing the aggression against its sovereignty and the blatant interference in its internal affairs — have been ignored, due to three of the organ’s permanent members. The latest example of those countries’ double standards was the series of air strikes on Aleppo International Airport — a double crime against a civilian facility, which is being used to support humanitarian aid delivery in the wake of the earthquakes. Also citing a recent visit by United States officials to an American military base that is illegally located in north-east Syria, he went on to decry the politicization of humanitarian assistance, noting that plans for the recent Brussels Donor Conference were made without any coordination or consultation with Damascus.
Also speaking were the representatives of Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Ecuador, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Albania, Malta, Iran and Türkiye.
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