UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council on Thursday was updated on the ongoing humanitarian effort in Syria, which all the members agreed has been exacerbated by the Feb. 6 earthquakes, but a less-than-rosy outlook was presented for the war-torn country.
There was stark division among diplomats on a political solution to the crisis in Syria caused by nearly 13 years of war and compounded by the February earthquakes, which has affected about 8.8 million people.
The session opened with updates from special UN envoys, each providing key details and statistics on the world body’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid and find common ground for a peaceful resolution to more than a decade of conflict. And while diplomats seemed united in their nations’ resolve to stick to a 2015 resolution to end the conflict, the usual East versus West political battlelines were laid bare during open discussion.
“Such a solution (for peace and extended humanitarian efforts) requires realism from all sides, and agreements and actions on key issues in Security Council Resolution No. 2254,” said Geir Pederson, special envoy of the secretary-general for Syria.
Resolution No. 2254 calls for, among other things, “the Syrian Government and opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process,” something that opposing sides currently seem unwilling to do.
Pederson went on to tell the assembled diplomats that violence in the country was on the rise, notably from Israeli strikes, attacks from Daesh, and increasing Syrian, Russian and US-led coalition strikes in response.
Diplomat after diplomat stressed their nations’ support for increased access to humanitarian aid. However, there were marked differences of opinion as to why that aid appeared to be lacking in parts of Syria, particularly in the north of the country.
The UAE’s representative Mohamed Issa Abu Shahab called for a national ceasefire to the conflict that has caused significant damage to Syria since 2015. He also stressed the need to end the “politicization” of humanitarian aid, saying that such political maneuvers ultimately result in more harm than good for the Syrian people.
Furthermore, Abu Shahab said the UAE has not seen signs in the current diplomatic process that point to increased stability in the region, and hoped to see “an Arab leadership role in all efforts” to achieve longstanding peace in the region.
“This includes establishing the necessary mechanisms and intensifying (efforts) among the Arab states to ensure the success of these endeavors,” he said.
More criticism of the seemingly lagging humanitarian response in Syria came from the Russian Federation diplomat, Vasily Nebenzya. He repeatedly referenced what he called “illegal provocation” by the US and its allies through what he classified as targeted sanctions against the Bashar Assad government.
Nebenzya accused the US and its allies of routinely engaging in “illegal” military actions, which were “in violation of Syria’s sovereignty and the sovereignty of neighboring Arab countries,” and that the absence of any action from the UN leadership to such actions “is very much alarming.”
In specifically addressing the humanitarian efforts in Syria, Nebenzya said the situation remains “exceedingly difficult, and it continues to deteriorate.”
“We cannot but note that the growing needs and problems endured by ordinary Syrians throughout the country have not prevented Western donors from seeking to politicize the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and they have been using this as a tool in pressuring Damascus, and they’ve also been undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria,” Nebenzya said.
The US’ Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said America would not “normalize our relationship with Assad, and we have strongly discouraged others from doing so” because “Syria continues to radiate instability to the broader region.”
“We will not lift our sanctions on Assad or support reconstruction absent genuine, comprehensive, and enduring reforms and progress on the political process,” said DeLaurentis.
He went on to say that “the United States continues to reject any suggestion that humanitarian assistance is blocked by US sanctions.”
Nearly 7 million Syrians have been displaced since the start of the Syrian conflict, according to Lisa Doughten, resource mobilization director for the UN humanitarian coordination office. Of those, nearly 80 percent have been displaced for at least five years, she said.
Doughten said that years of conflict — coupled with economic pressures, dwindling public services and decaying critical infrastructure — have left Syrians “acutely vulnerable to shocks and stress.”
“Durable solutions are needed for this crisis, starting with an end to the conflict,” Doughten said.