Nearly 50,000 People Displaced in South-Western Syria amid Full Ground Offensive, Aerial Bombardments, Special Envoy Tells Security Council

SC/13397
27 June 2018
8296th Meeting (AM)

Nearly 50,000 People Displaced in South-Western Syria amid Full Ground Offensive, Aerial Bombardments, Special Envoy Tells Security Council

Country’s Permanent Representative Faults Secretary-General’s Report for Not Prioritizing Anti-Terrorism Efforts by Damascus

The Special Envoy for Syria warned the Security Council today that a full-scale battle in the country’s previously calm south-west could engulf an area and population the size of eastern Ghouta and Aleppo combined, adding that events seemed to be moving in that direction.

Briefing delegates from Geneva, Staffan de Mistura said that over the last week, nearly 50,000 people in the south-west had been displaced by a full ground offensive, aerial bombardments and exchanges of gunfire from both sides.  The implications raised significant risks for regional security and compromised progress being made on the political front, which was focused on the formation of a constitutional committee.

He said that this month, he had consulted with France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States on de-escalation arrangements, as those countries had a stake in the process and could be important players in any reconstruction.  He had also sought to advance the Final Statement agreed at the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue, held in Sochi, Russian Federation.  He had received a list of 50 nominees for the constitutional committee from Syria and was awaiting a similar one from the opposition.

“We are moving cautiously in the right direction,” he said, urging the Council to help find a solution in the south-west that would spare suffering and reduce displacement. He urged all parties to use existing channels for the protection of civilians and for providing an exit to the conflict.

John Ging, Director of the Coordination and Response Division of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the number of displaced people could nearly double if the fighting continued.  Dozens of civilians had been reported killed, while civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, had come under attack.  Despite the hostilities, however, the United Nations and its partners were providing core relief to more than 400,000 people in southern Syria from across the border in Jordan, he said.  While the geographic space for operations had shrunk as south-eastern areas transitioned to Government control, the number of people supported by the United Nations had grown.  “For many people in need in the south of Syria and in the north-west, cross-border operations remain a lifeline,” he added.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates decried the intensified fighting within the south-western de-escalation zone negotiated by the United States, Jordan, and the Russian Federation in 2017.  Expressing deep concern over Syria’s new offensive, directly supported by the Russian Federation, the representative of the United States said claims that more than half of the zone was controlled by terrorists were “just not true” and urged Moscow to uphold the ceasefire it had helped to create.

The Russian Federation’s representative, on the other hand, said life was being restored with “robust” assistance from his country, especially in Damascus and near Homs.  Homes were being rebuilt in eastern Ghouta, but in the south-west, the terrorist group Al-Nusrah had attacked Syrian military personnel, while jihadists had shelled Dara’a and other areas that had embraced de-escalation.  No cessation-of-hostilities regime had ever stipulated a pause in fighting terrorists, he emphasized.

Syria’s delegate said the Special Envoy had failed to consider combating terrorism a priority, despite the fact that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), under the protection of the United States, and Al-Nusrah, under the protection of the United States, Israel and others, were present in the country.  Terrorists had carried out attacks in Dara’a and other places in what was being called south-west Syria and it was the duty of Syria’s army to respond, he added.

Recalling that the objective of resolution 2139 (2014) should have been to help Syria overcome the suffering caused by the terrorist war imposed upon it, he said the facts showed that his country’s Government was cooperating with the United Nations to deliver aid.  Last month, it had approved all requests by the World Food Programme and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, China, Peru, Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Poland, Bolivia, Kuwait and Ethiopia.

The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and ended at 12:48 p.m.

Briefings

STAFFAN DE MISTURA, Special Envoy for Syria, expressed grave concern over the turn of events in south-west Syria, saying a full ground offensive, aerial bombardments and exchanges of fire were under way from both sides.  The Council could not allow conditions there to resemble those in eastern Ghouta or eastern Aleppo, where so many civilians had died, yet there were signs that events were moving in that direction, he warned.  If a full-scale battle ensued, it could turn into “eastern Ghouta and Aleppo combined”.  Already, nearly 50,000 people had been displaced, with 900,000 displaced in 2018 alone, he said, emphasizing that the implications posed significant risks for regional security and stability.  Recalling the reported air strikes against Damascus airport on 25 June, which Syria’s media had attributed to Israel, he said that his office could not confirm the details nor had Israel made any statement.

Urging all interested parties to use existing channels to make arrangements for the protection of civilians and an exit from the conflict, he said that this month, he had intensified efforts to advance the Final Statement agreed at the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue, held in Sochi, for the creation of a United Nations-facilitated constitutional committee, within the framework of the Geneva process, and in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015).  The Government of Syria had provided a catalyst on 28 May, conveying 50 names — previously discussed with Iran and the Russian Federation — to the Office of the Special Envoy, he said, adding that he had consulted with leaders and opposition representatives in Istanbul, Tehran, Cairo, the United States and European countries to determine that it was time to take advantage of Syria’s initiative.

He went on to say that on 19 June, he had held high-level consultations in Geneva with the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran to discuss how to implement the Sochi Final Statement on establishing a Syrian-owned constitutional committee.  “It was a constructive meeting” where the parties had discussed the committee’s composition, decision-making and how to avoid deadlock.  The meeting had sought to reach a preliminary understanding, with common ground having emerged around a spirit of potential compromise, he said.  All three parties had recognized the need for the committee to be credible in the eyes of the international community.  He said that on 22 June, he had met with European Union officials and would meet with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on 28 June.

On 25 June he had held consultations with France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States to discuss the de-escalation arrangements underpinning progress on the political front, he said, noting “these countries have an interest and a stake in the process” and could be important players in any potential reconstruction.  Stressing that the committee must contain a diverse spectrum of Syrians — including independents, civil society, experts and women — he said he would help to ensure the committee’s credibility and international legitimacy, adding that he expected that it must include 30 per cent women.  Of the 50 names submitted by Syria, 26 per cent were women, “not enough, but a very good signal”, he said, noting he would not accept arguments that there were not enough women who were competent on constitutional issues.  He said that he had taken note of a letter in support of women’s participation from Peru, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and expressed hope that a list would soon be provided by the opposition.  Both Geneva meetings had underscored support for the role of the United Nations in facilitating the Geneva process, including the constitutional committee.

While a positive step forward, “this is a package” and Syria’s engagement, with full respect for its concerns, would be needed, he stressed.  Broadly, it was important to see steps that could help restore trust and confidence, he said, expressing concern over unilateral acts, such as law 10, which worried refugees and neighbouring countries such as Lebanon.  He called for progress on the detainees file, noting that his team was in Ankara working on their release and seeking to identify missing persons.  Thus far, the outcome had been zero, but they would not give up.  Today would see the third meeting of a working group focused on detainees and missing persons, an issue affecting thousands of Syrians who expected results.  He said that, in the meantime, he would continue to seek ways to bridge the positions of international stakeholders through high-level diplomacy.  “Serious, robust and sustainable” dialogue was vital to underpinning the political process, an issue discussed with the President of Egypt in Cairo.

He went on to state that he was now seeing an “emerging web” of high-level international discussions on Syria, citing frequent contact between the United States and the Russian Federation at different levels, as well as high-level communications between the Presidents of the Russian Federation and France, among others.  It was possible to build upon such efforts, he said.  Many countries were not far apart on issues of sovereignty and unity, and the United Nations was ready to use its good offices and competence to facilitate international dialogue in the search of commonalities.  “We are moving cautiously in the right direction on the political front,” he said, while expressing grave concern over battlefield developments and their potential to expand into regional tensions.  He urged the Council to help find an arrangement or solution in south-western Syria in order to spare suffering and reduce displacement.

JOHN GING, Director of the Coordination and Response Division in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said violence had escalated sharply in Syria last week, with an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 people having been displaced, mostly from eastern Dara’a Governorate to areas near the border with Jordan.  Quoting the World Food Programme (WFP), he said the number of displaced people could nearly double if the violence continued to escalate.  Dozens of civilians, including children, had been reported killed, he said, adding that many more had been injured and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, had come under attack.  Despite the hostilities, the United Nations and its partners were still providing food, health, nutrition, education and core relief items to more than 400,000 people in need in southern Syria from across the border in Jordan.  Further escalation would significantly increase the number of displacements and jeopardize the ability of the United Nations to help them.  Echoing the Secretary-General’s call last week for an immediate end to the current military escalation, he called on all stakeholders to ensure that cross-border humanitarian deliveries were carried out in a sustained, safe and unimpeded manner.

Reviewing the situation in other parts of the country, he said the humanitarian situation in north-western Syria, particularly in Idlib, was increasingly dire due to massive new displacements since late 2017.  More than 500,000 people had been displaced to and within Idlib over the past six months, whether from eastern Ghouta, northern rural Homs, Yarmouk and other parts of Idlib.  In Raqqa city, where an assessment mission had been conducted on 13 and 14 June, an estimated 138,000 people had returned since the withdrawal of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in October 2017.  Further to the west, an estimated 136,000 people were still in Afrin district, with another 134,000 people from that district remaining displaced in Tall Refaat sub-district and the town of Nabul and Zahrra, he said.  Humanitarian access in Afrin district was improving, with Turkey and Turkish organizations providing most of the humanitarian response.  In eastern Ghouta, close to 16,000 people were reported to have moved back, and an estimated 125,000 were living inside the enclave.  However, the United Nations had largely been unable to access eastern Ghouta since control over the area had changed hands in March, he said.

Citing the World Health Organization (WHO), he said there had been 112 confirmed attacks on health facilities so far this year, a number on par with the number of attacks in all of 2017.  That averaged one attack every other day, he noted.  Since March, the United Nations, working with the Russian Federation, the United States-led Coalition against ISIL, and Turkey, had deconflicted more than 500 humanitarian locations to prevent them from being targeted.  Nevertheless, four such sites — all health facilities — in eastern Ghouta and northern rural Homs had been hit in March and April.  Citing the Secretary-General’s report last week on the Organization’s cross-border operations, he said nearly 5 million people in need were in areas more accessible via cross-border operations than from within Syria.  “For many people in need in the south of Syria and in the north-west, cross-border operations remain a lifeline.”  He concluded by stating that 2018 had seen a rapid evolution of the conflict in Syria, with shifts in control over territory, mass movements of people and nearly a million additional displaced people.  While the geographical space for cross-border operations had shrunk as areas in the south-east of Idlib had transitioned to Government control, the number of people supported by United Nations cross-border operations had increased, with their needs becoming ever more acute.  As long as people remained inaccessible from within Syria, cross-border humanitarian deliveries would remain vital based on needs alone, he emphasized.

Statements

Mr. COHEN (United States) said “we are no closer to peace in Syria” or to addressing the Council’s concern over humanitarian access.  He Expressed deep concern over Syria’s new offensive, with direct support from the Russian Federation, in the south-west, where rocket attacks and bombardments had taken a huge civilian toll.  In 12 days, at least 45,000 people had fled, a number that could be as high as 70,000, despite formal arrangements to keep that area calm.  When the de-escalation zone had been created, the terms had been:  there would be a ceasefire to allow the parties to combat terrorist groups.  That arrangement was in place, he said, emphasizing that the United States and Jordan had upheld their commitments, while the Russian Federation justified Syria’s offensive by saying that more than half that zone was controlled by terrorists.  “That is just not true,” he said, stressing that the fighters belonged to the moderate Free Syrian Army.  The zone allowed only for combating Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Al-Nusrah and Al-Qaida.  Noting that Bashar Al-Assad and the Russian Federation justified their assaults on civilian infrastructure such as schools and bakeries under the pretext of fighting terrorism, he cited recent air strikes by the Russian Federation in the south-west, saying unilateral operations by Syria and the Russian Federation violated the ceasefire arrangement reaffirmed by the United States and Russian Presidents.

Urging the Russian Federation to uphold the ceasefire it had helped to create, in partnership with the United States and Jordan, he said it must de-escalate violence throughout Syria, in accordance with Council resolutions, as it appeared to be choosing the military option rather than the political one.  The Council must demand that the escalation stop immediately, he said, adding that the offensive threatened the Al-Ramtha crossing that the Council had authorized for border crossings.  It was vital that cross-border humanitarian aid reach those depending upon it.  As the regime had routinely failed to facilitate aid, the Council must use its authority to support the continuation of cross-border operations, he said, adding that the new humanitarian operations mechanism that required Syria’s approval was out of touch with reality.  “We cannot put humanitarian assistance, and the cross-border mechanism that ensures its delivery, in jeopardy,” he emphasized, urging the swift formation of a constitutional committee under United Nations auspices, and inclusive of civil society, women and Syrian opposition members from the Syrian negotiations.  The statement from the conference in Sochi made clear that the United Nations had authority over who would sit on that committee.  The United States was committed to the Geneva process and resolution 2254 (2015), he said, stressing that its work with the Russian Federation on the de-escalation arrangement had demonstrated that, with political will, progress was possible.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said attacks during the week by Syria’s regime against the opposition in the south-west had resumed, with air strikes on Dara’a having taken place since 23 June.  The goal was to prompt opposition groups to surrender, through war tactics that were in contravention of international law.  The offensive was taking place in a sensitive border area likely to affect the stability of Israel and Jordan, he said, emphasizing France’s commitment to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in that context.  A wave of refugees would destabilize Jordan, which already hosted many Syrians.  He called on all parties to honour their commitments to end the offensive, and on the Russian Federation in particular to immediately guarantee a cessation of hostilities.  France deplored the disastrous humanitarian situation in Idlib, eastern Ghouta and elsewhere, he said, stressing that too few convoys could access people in need.  Syria’s regime bore acute responsibility, and it was of utmost importance to guarantee unfettered aid access under the United Nations auspices.  The Organization’s mechanism was transparent, efficient and helping those in need, and it must be maintained.  However, the military approach to the humanitarian situation prevented France from turning a blind eye, he said, cautioning against a regional spillover while expressing full support for the Geneva efforts to ensure the convergence of stakeholder positions on a political process.  He welcomed efforts to establish a constitutional committee, saying it should be composed of one third representatives of the regime, one third from the opposition and one third of independents, with at least 30 per cent women.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) underscored the primacy of the United Nations Geneva process in deciding how to take the constitutional committee forward, recalling that when she had been posted to Geneva earlier in her career, she had met many Syrian women.  “They are impressive, energetic, secular and they have a contribution to make,” she said.  The parties should build on emerging areas of common ground, she said, adding that the United Kingdom would support a pragmatic political settlement that ended the conflict and fostered regional stability.  However, law 10 had cast doubt on Syria’s willingness to engage meaningfully.  She expressed deep concern over Syria’s increasing attacks, backed by the Russian Federation forces, in south-west Syria, underscoring the significant risk posed to regional security.  The attacks were in flagrant violation of the de-escalation agreement reached in November.  The geographic space for cross-border operations had shrunk, especially in Idlib, but in areas under Syria’s control, access should have become more comprehensive.  It was unclear why there was an erratic pattern of allowing some United Nations personnel in and not others, she said, stressing that 2 million Syrians were still in hard-to-reach areas, making it important to understand why access was so difficult.  Noting that attacks against health facilities were outlawed under international law, she called for them to stop.  The United Kingdom sought a response from Syria and the Russian Federation about their sincerity to engage in a political process, about what could be done to restore the ceasefire, and about Syria’s policies that prevented displaced people from receiving aid.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) expressed deep concern over the military offensive in south-western Syria and its humanitarian consequences, reiterating very strongly the Secretary-General’s call for an end to the offensive.  The recent escalation in the south-west contravened Security Council resolution 2401 (2018), which demanded a cessation of hostilities to permit humanitarian deliveries, he said, calling upon all parties to comply with their international obligations and Council resolutions .  Such a full-scale offensive was contrary to the desires of all Council members, he said, urging a redoubling of efforts towards a political solution to the conflict.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said he was deeply concerned by the massive use of violence by the Syrian regime with the support of its allies.  Emphasizing the Russian Federation’s responsibility as a guarantor, he urged that country to exert pressure on Syria, stressing the risk of the conflict spilling over into the wider region and demanding a halt to attacks by the Syrian regime on medical facilities and its own people.  He said that, with the Council unable to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court due to use of the veto, the Netherlands would pursue that objective in other ways.  On the growing need for a political solution, he commended the Special Envoy’s resilience and welcomed the progress made on an inclusive constitutional committee, while sharing the United Kingdom’s concern about “law number 10” and its potential implications for the search for a political solution.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) described the consultations held in Geneva on 18‑19 June as a step in the right direction towards implementing the Sochi Final Declaration and forming a Syrian-owned constitutional committee.  Commending the Special Envoy’s attempts to involve different States of the Middle East, the Gulf and Europe, he said a revamped regional approach was needed to support the Geneva and Astana processes.  Describing the humanitarian situation as “very grave”, he encouraged more cross-border deliveries from Iraq, Jordan and Turkey in accordance with Council resolutions.  The Government of Syria must uphold a level of improvement in granting humanitarian access to those areas that had recently come under localized agreements, he said, emphasizing that special attention must be paid to Idlib, where nearly half the population had been displaced and must be salvaged.

LIE CHENG (China) said that a political settlement was the only way out of the violence in Syria.  The international community must support the United Nations as the main channel for that to happen and push the parties to move towards the same goal.  On the constitutional committee, he said all regional actors should bear in mind the importance of regional stability, and respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Syria.  China called on the parties to remain calm and avoid actions that could lead to further escalation.  On the grave humanitarian situation, he noted the information contained in the Secretary-General’s report on cross-border actions and expressed grave concern over the people’s suffering.  Noting that attacks by terrorists hampered humanitarian relief, he pressed the global community to strengthen counter-terrorism efforts.  All parties must ensure implementation of resolution 2401 (2018), while the international community enhanced its coordination with Syria, provided assistance to all areas needing it, supported mine clearance and helped people to return home.

FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru) stressed the importance of the Secretary-General’s report, saying it allowed the Council to verify how the humanitarian mechanism was working.  The Council must respond to the humanitarian crisis by setting aside differences and focusing instead on unity in order to ensure that international humanitarian law was upheld.  Expressing concern over events in the south-west, especially in Dara’a, and the humanitarian impact of the violence on the 500,000 civilians there, he said the needs of the thousands of freshly displaced persons must be met, as should those of the 2.5 million people in Idlib, which was teetering on the brink of calamity.  Peru called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and on all parties to uphold their responsibility to protect civilians, including by allowing aid to reach them unhindered, he said, while deploring attacks targeting health facilities.  On the political front, he pressed Syria’s opposition to submit its list of candidates for the constitutional committee to ensure balanced representation and that the 30 per cent quota for women was met.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) expressed deep concern over clashes in the south-west, especially in Dara’a, noting that the area was of strategic importance given its proximity to Jordan and the Golan Heights.  The de-escalation zone arrangement, struck in 2017, must be upheld, he said, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and on all stakeholders to uphold their international legal obligations, especially to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.  It was essential to advance the political process, resume the Geneva talks and pursue the Astana track, he said, stressing that the Astana guarantors must do their utmost to help create the constitutional committee and include civil society and women.  Double standards must end, he said, emphasizing:  “There is no time for ambiguity.”  He urged direct talks among the parties to reach a common understanding.  He expressed regret over the worsening humanitarian conditions, stressing the vital importance of the parties refraining from hindering the delivery of aid.

THÉODORE DAH (Côte d’Ivoire), also expressing concern about the escalation of violence, deplored the obstacles put in the way of efforts by the United Nations and its partners to deliver humanitarian assistance.  Welcoming the independent review of cross-border humanitarian deliveries, he said the ongoing military escalation underscored the importance of a political solution.  There could be no military solution to the conflict, he emphasized, calling for a comprehensive ceasefire as well as international support for the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy towards resumed negotiations.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said it was unfortunate that military logic was driving developments in Syria, with the escalation of violence in the south-west de-escalation zone being the most striking example.  Poland strongly condemned the intensification of military operations and called for an immediate end to the violence.  Having taken control of eastern Ghouta, the Government was preventing regular United Nations humanitarian access.  The humanitarian imperative must be the Council’s priority, she emphasized, adding that it must remain seized of the matter of “law number 10”.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said that once against, his delegation was compelled to convey its sorrow as the conflict in Syria headed into an eighth year.  Expressing concern about the situation in the south-west, he called for a cessation of violence in that area and condemned any attack against hospitals and schools.  The parties to the conflict must uphold their obligations under international law and international humanitarian law.  Security Council resolution 2401 (2018) must be fully implemented, he said, calling for the dispatch of cross-border humanitarian convoys and appealing to the Government of Syria to cooperate and coordinate more actively with the United Nations and its humanitarian partners.  The political process must be re-galvanized, with the Syrian people deciding their own future and political leadership, free from foreign intervention and pressure of any kind.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) welcomed signs for optimism in the formation of the constitutional committee, while stressing that there was no military or humanitarian solution to the situation.  The only solution was political, he said, emphasizing the importance of committing to resolution 2401 (2018) and pressing the Council and the Astana guarantors to follow up on its implementation.  Reliance on cross-border assistance had increased and ways must be found to enhance them to serve hard-to-reach areas.  Expressing concern over the military escalation in the south-west and its potential humanitarian impacts, especially the targeting of health facilities, he declared: “This is a clear violation of Council resolutions,” almost constituting a war crime.  The parties must adhere to international law, he stressed.  “We have a responsibility to support the political track,” maintain Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and meet the aspirations of its people, he said.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) expressed support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to relaunch the Geneva process, with emphasis on the formation of a constitutional committee based on the Final Statement of the Sochi Conference.  Welcoming Syria’s submission of 50 names as candidates for membership of that committee he said it was imperative that it fully represent the Syrian people.  The need for post-conflict reconstruction support made the issue of legitimacy critical, he said, stressing that such efforts must be Syrian-owned, as outlined in resolution 2254 (2015).  The military escalation in the south-west and in Idlib was a serious concern, as both areas were de-escalation zones, he noted, emphasizing that the parties must respect the ceasefire and work together to end the fighting.  De-escalation must be a top priority, as it ensured the quality of humanitarian access.  The ability of the United Nations to reach people across conflict lines had collapsed, he said, pressing all parties to ensure safe, rapid and unimpeded access.  All pledges should also be disbursed, he added.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said life in Syria was being restored with “robust” assistance from his country, especially in Damascus and the north, and near Homs.  In eastern Ghouta, homes were being rebuilt, while in Douma and several other areas, funds were being allocated.  “There is nothing of the like taking place in areas of Syria occupied by the so-called coalition”, which remained in Syria under a concocted pretext to prolong its presence.  There had been no change for the better, he said, adding that the so-called liberators had instead razed cities and attempted to lecture his country about morals.  Armed groups charged fees of up to $500 for those wishing to leave a certain camp, while United Nations Mine Action Service assistance had been delayed.  In contrast, the Russian Federation had carried out four such operations in record time, in Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor, allowing thousands of people to return.  Describing “hand wringing” over law 10 as unjustified, he said it did not constitute property expropriation, but rather property rights protection.  Syria was not evading contact with the United Nations; it was clarifying details with the goal of rebuilding areas damaged by the hostilities.  Assistance for rebuilding Syria could not be conditioned on political demands, he emphasized.

Expressing disappointment over the report’s review of cross-border operations, he said it incorrectly stated that they were only provided to territories not under Government control.  Resolution 2165 (2014) establishing that mechanism noted that such deliveries were to be made available to all areas requiring assistance, he pointed out.  The Russian Federation sought the closure of cross-border operations in order to allow time for the United Nations and others to lay the groundwork for dialogue with the Syrian authorities on new ways to deliver assistance, but the Organization had not taken that opportunity, he said.  The report also failed to mention principles for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including respect for sovereignty, yet found no flaw in already existing cross-border operations, he said, calling upon the Secretariat to find ways that would allow for a consensual, phased approach to such operations.  As for conditions in the south-west, he said that his country’s Government was not indifferent to the concerns of Jordan and Israel, but Al-Nusrah had attacked Syria’s military personnel.  Dara’a and other areas that had embraced de-escalation were being shelled by jihadists, while terrorists had increased the shelling of residential areas in Aleppo.  Not a single cessation-of-hostilities regime had stipulated a pause in fighting terrorists, he noted.  The Special Envoy was aware of the Russian Federation’s commitment to intra-Syrian dialogue, he said, pointing out that Syria had submitted its list of representatives for the constitutional committee, while thought was only just under way among the opposition, the cohesion of which was questionable.

Bashar Ja'afari (Syria) said that some of the statements delivered today demonstrated political maturity, a sense of responsibility and objectivity in relation to the situation in his country.  Others, however, viewed the situation in Syria in a wrong and distorted manner.  The Special Envoy, at the start of his briefing, had touched upon three priorities — calming the situation, reviving the political track and bridging the gaps among stakeholders through high-level diplomacy.  Syria had no objections to that, but after seven years of a horrible terrorist war imposed on it, the Special Envoy had failed to consider combating terrorism a priority, despite the fact that Da’esh, under the protection of the United States, and Al-Nusrah, under the protection of the United States, Israel and others, were still present in the country.  Emphasizing that armed terrorist groups had carried out attacks in Dara’a and other places in what was being called south-west Syria, he said it was the duty of the Syrian army to respond and to protect thousands of civilians.  Combating terrorism was a priority and that had been acknowledged in the Geneva agenda, he said.

He went on to note that the Special Envoy had worryingly expressed hope that the Security Council would never allow the situation in southern Syria to turn into another eastern Ghouta or Aleppo.  If the Council had repeatedly reaffirmed Syria’s sovereignty, then how could it consider what was happening a military aggression?  It was also strange to hear the representative of France call for the protection of the “white helmets” in the Golan, since they were a terrorist group affiliated with Al-Nusrah, with support from Israel, he said.  Did the mandate of the Security Council provide for the protection of “white helmets” or for the protection of UNDOF, members of whom had been kidnapped a few years ago by Al‑Nusrah?  He added that he hoped he had been mistaken in hearing France’s representative call for “a Syrian Dayton”, pointing out that less than 25 years on, the Council was still looking into minute details relating to the repercussions of the Dayton agreement.  Syria rejected that delegate’s statement, he added.

He went on to recall that the Director of the Coordination and Response Division of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had referred to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afrin “as if the Turkish monster was not present at all” in that area.  Instead of accusing Turkey of invading a part of Syria and creating a human tragedy, he had hailed that country for providing humanitarian assistance.  As for the Secretary-General’s latest report, the fifty-second since the adoption of resolution 2139 (2018), he said it had been turned into a political tool by the United States, France and some influential parties in the Secretariat to put pressure on Syria.  The objective of resolution 2139 (2018) should have been to help Syria overcome suffering due to the terrorist war imposed upon it, he said, adding that such facts proved that the Government of Syria was cooperating with the United Nations and others to deliver humanitarian assistance to those who deserved it.  Last month, the Government had approved all requests by the WFP and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, so it was strange that they were happy with Syria’s cooperation but the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was not.

It was deplorable, he continued, that the drafters of all 52 reports had turned a blind eye to the crimes committed against the people of Syria, including coercive unilateral measures as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the United States and its allies in Raqqa under the pretext of combating terrorism, he said, adding that their lack of professionalism or credibility had reached unacceptable levels.  Noting that hundreds of thousands of mines remained in Raqqa, claiming many civilian lives, he said Syria had spent six months trying to agree with the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) on demining the city, but the effort had ended after the UNMAS management had insisted on bringing in a French person.  It was really deplorable as well that the drafters of the Secretary-General’s report had turned a blind eye to crimes committed by Israel, including support for armed terrorist groups in separation zones.  Emphasizing that the Syrian Government had sent an official letter responding to the Secretary-General’s report, he said it was no longer acceptable to turn a blind eye to the real hurdles to the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  The Government would continue to combat international terrorism on its territory relentlessly, he said, adding that the solution to the conflict would be a political one, led by Syrians, with no foreign interference or preconditions.

The representative of Sweden, taking the floor a second time, and speaking also on behalf of Kuwait, said it was deeply concerning that 2018 had seen a collapse in the ability to reach people across conflict lines from within Syria.  Those with influence were encouraged, in their dialogues with Damascus, to step up the signing of letters for the facilitation of convoys into affected areas.  Sweden and Kuwait also condemned attacks on medical facilities, deplored the removal of medical items from humanitarian convoys, and welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on cross-border access.

For information media. Not an official record.