Some States Still Insist on Using Relief Aid to Justify Pursuit of Narrow Political Ends, Says Permanent Representative
Welcoming the nationwide ceasefire agreement due to take effect in Syria on Saturday, the United Nations humanitarian chief described the development today as a long-awaited, optimistic sign for millions suffering in the war-torn country.
“I cannot stress enough that we must not let this opportunity pass,” Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council this morning. “We cannot take away this glimmer of hope from the people that need it the most,” he said during a briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation (document S/2016/156).
“In the Syrian conflict, there are no winners; everyone is losing,” he said, echoing the Secretary-General’s call for parties to the conflict to abide by the agreement as a first step towards a more durable ceasefire, increased humanitarian relief and finally a political solution to the crisis. “This war has to end,” he emphasized, adding: “Much as we try, the delivery of humanitarian assistance can only address the symptoms, not the root causes.”
He stressed that the agreement announced by the Co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group — the United States and the Russian Federation — must result in an immediate end to all targeted and indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure. Now entering its sixth year, the civil war was among the “largest, most destructive crises of our times”, he said, noting that it had left some 13.5 million Syrians, or almost three quarters of the population, in dire need of protection and humanitarian aid.
In February alone, he continued, several hundred people had been killed and more than 70,000 displaced due to intense aerial bombing in Aleppo, while attacks on health-care facilities in Idlib, reportedly by Government and allied forces, had left some 40,000 without medical services. Meanwhile, car bomb attacks claimed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had killed more than 155 people in Damascus and Homs, as non-State armed groups continued shelling in populated areas of the capital.
Despite the intensified fighting, he said, the United Nations and its partners continued to scale up aid to people in need through all available routes, reaching 110,000 people in besieged areas, often at great personal risk to humanitarian workers. As of 17 February, United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoys had distributed assistance to 61,000 people in the towns of Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kefraya, he said. Aid convoys had also reached 40,000 in Madimayet, near central Damascus, and 10,000 in Kafr Batna, in Eastern Ghouta.
In January, he recalled, the World Food Programme (WFP) had delivered food to 3.6 million people and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had provided water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to more than 2 million people. This month, thanks to cross-border operations authorized by the Council, food aid deliveries had increased by nearly 50 per cent. However, many deliveries were delayed because aid trucks had been held up at checkpoints and subjected to bureaucratic hurdles, in clear violation of the Council’s calls for safe, unhindered, unimpeded access, he said, demanding immediate approval for the next round of convoys to Eastern Ghoutah, Homs, Aleppo and southern Syria.
Noting that Syria’s Ministry of Health had denied entry to medical supply convoys intended for some 30,000 people, he said the United Nations Resident Coordinator would request that the Government include in future shipments all medical items that had been removed, and ensure simpler, speedier procedures for approving deliveries. Additionally, the United Nations had begun using airdrops to reach people in certain areas as a matter of last resort, he said.
Recalling that a WFP plane had made the first drop of supplies comprising a total of 21 tons of items into Deir Ezzor, eastern Syria, earlier this morning, he called upon the Government of Syria to urgently approve more than 40 outstanding requests for interagency convoys to deliver assistance to besieged and hard-to-reach areas. He also called upon non-State armed entities and listed terrorist groups to fulfil their obligations.
Following the briefing, Bashar Ja’afari (Syria) said that, while he did not deny the depth of the humanitarian crisis in his country, he did disagree with the Under-Secretary-General’s assessment of the cause. Some States had portrayed the Syrian Government as being “first and foremost” responsible for the suffering and brutality, however, the Government was fully committed to providing aid to all Syrians in need and to coordinating and cooperating with all States, as well as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on the matter. Its consent on 16 February to the entry of aid convoys into Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kefraya — and the fact that deliveries had been made without any major security incident — illustrated the Government’s concern for the safety and security of humanitarian workers, he emphasized.
Rather, the crisis had been caused by the spread of non-State armed terrorists groups into Syria using civilians as human shields, and it was only present in areas where such groups existed, he stressed. Terrorists receiving money and weapons from outside the country had launched indiscriminate rocket attacks and suicide bombings in areas such as Kafreya and Damascus. It was regrettable that, since the beginning of the crisis, some Governments still insisted on using humanitarian relief as justification for pursuing narrow political ends, he said, pointing out that “so-called moderate terrorists” were not going hungry; only civilians were suffering.
He went on to state that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey was supplying thousands of terrorists with weapons and allowing them passage into Syria. How could the humanitarian crisis end when President Erdoğan was using the plight of refugees to blackmail States? He accused other Governments of refusing, earlier in the week, a balanced Council resolution that rejected external interference in Syria’s internal affairs.
Resolving the crisis called for combating terrorism and pressing ahead with the political track, he said. The Syrian Government was committed to both, and had cooperated with Russian negotiators in deciding who was to be included in the ceasefire arrangement. He stressed the Syrian military’s right to retaliate against any groups attacking it, and the importance of controlling the national borders and halting support to terrorist organizations so as to prevent them from undermining the cessation-of-hostilities agreement.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:40 a.m.