Although the United Nations and partners completed an epic aid operation in Syria this month, persistent violence and gaps in humanitarian access underline the critical need to renew the cross-border aid authorization set to expire in December, a senior humanitarian affairs official told the Security Council today.
“The renewal of this Council’s resolution will continue to save lives,” said Reena Ghalani, Director for Operations and Advocacy in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “Millions of people depend on your decision,” she added, delivering the Council’s monthly briefing on that matter.
Briefing on behalf of Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ms. Ghalani recalled that between 3 and 8 November, the United Nations, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other partners concluded a complex humanitarian assistance operation to provide life-saving aid to about 50,000 displaced persons in south-east Syria’s Rukban camp, the first major delivery there since January. The operation was approved by the Government of Syria and facilitated by the Russian Federation and the United States, she explained.
The teams, together with Syria’s Ministry of Health, vaccinated more than 5,000 children, she continued, recalling that the humanitarian workers expressed shock at conditions in the camp. The Secretary-General has called for a further convoy as a matter of priority, and for a durable solution that is “safe, voluntary and dignified”, she said, noting that most people there desire to return home but are afraid to do so.
She went on to note that some 4.3 million people currently in need live in areas outside the Government’s control, 3 million of whom can only be reached through cross-border operations, and the United Nations has no alternative means to reach them. This month alone, nearly 600,000 people received assistance, including food, medicines, educational supplies and other essential items. The vaccination of more than 12,500 children against measles and rubella has just been completed in Idlib Governorate, using supplies delivered across the border, she said. All deliveries are monitored to ensure they contain only humanitarian supplies, she affirmed.
Overall, from areas under Government control, across conflict lines as well as borders, the United Nations and its partners are reaching, on average, almost 5.4 million people with humanitarian assistance in each month of 2018. Expressing serious concern over violence this month, she cited increased reports of civilian casualties and displacements due to air strikes and ground fighting in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. In addition, there have been reports of mortar shells containing chlorine gas hitting three densely populated neighbourhoods in western Aleppo, she said, reiterating that “any confirmed use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and a clear and egregious violation of international law”.
Reporting the first air strikes in Idlib Governate in two months, she emphasized that they demonstrate the fragility of the agreements already reached on Syria and the urgent need to preserve them. In any case, “we reiterate that under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict must protect civilians against attack, treat them humanely and allow and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian relief”, she stressed.
Following the briefing, Mansour Al-Otaibi (Kuwait) — speaking also on behalf of Sweden, the other co-penholder on the Syrian humanitarian file — pledged his delegation’s efforts to have Council resolution 2165 (2014) on humanitarian access, including its cross-border assistance modality, renewed given the persistence of significant challenges to humanitarian aid delivery and the need to use the most direct routes. As for reports of renewed fighting, he called upon the Astana guarantors to ensure that the ceasefire in Idlib holds. “The increase in military actions and hostilities […] and reports of the use of chemicals again, this time in Aleppo, is a reminder to all of us of the fragility of the situation in Syria,” he stressed. Reiterating his delegation’s condemnation of the use of any chemical weapons anywhere and by anyone — and emphasizing that their use constitutes a war crime — he also strongly condemned attacks against hospitals and other civilian facilities.
Jonathan Cohen (United States) welcomed the recent delivery to the Rukban camp, recalling that his delegation worked for months with the Russian Federation and other parties to make it happen. However, it is not enough. “There is no conveyable reason why the Syrian regime should block any future deliveries,” he emphasized, expressing support for another aid delivery to Rukban, set for December. Stressing that all parties must support full humanitarian access, he said the Syrian regime now has the chance to demonstrate its commitment to humanitarian access without punishing communities in areas outside its control. He also warned against a breach of the ceasefire in Idlib and called for renewal of the authorization for cross-border humanitarian aid delivery.
Dmitry A. Polyanskiy (Russian Federation), noting the increased stability and improved humanitarian situation in Syria, called for much-needed adjustments to the cross-border aid delivery mechanism. At this critical juncture when thousands of refugees are returning to Syrian towns and cities, the international community must lend assistance to the country’s reconstruction efforts, he added. Expressing concern that some Western capitals continue to predicate their support on political circumstances, he condemned their imposition of illegal unilateral sanctions on Syria, saying they significantly undermine the ability of civilians to gain access to medication and other crucial assistance. The Russian Federation is also concerned about the continued build-up of the United States presence on the ground near the Euphrates River, he said, also calling attention to alarming reports that armed groups shelled residential areas of Aleppo with toxic substances last week. While the parties have committed to the ceasefire in Idlib, “that does not remove the need to continue to combat terrorism there”, he emphasized.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 10:43 a.m.