Top Officials Call for Immediate Action to Ensure Ceasefire in North-Western Syria, as Security Council Hears Briefings on Humanitarian Situation

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29 August 2019
8609th Meeting (AM)

Top Officials Call for Immediate Action to Ensure Ceasefire in North-Western Syria, as Security Council Hears Briefings on Humanitarian Situation

Government Exercising Sovereign Right to Combat Thousands of Foreign Terrorist Fighters, Permanent Representative Reiterates

With the delicate political process intended to resolve the crisis in Syria entering a critical phase, senior United Nations officials called today for immediate Security Council action to ensure a ceasefire is in place in that country’s north-western Idlib Governorate amid a surge in civilian casualties and ongoing attacks on key infrastructure.

“We cannot turn back the clock on what has happened, but this Council and its members can take meaningful action now to protect civilians and ensure full respect for international humanitarian law, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said.  “It is within your power to do that.”

He went on to note that, with the first anniversary of the signing of a memorandum of understanding on stabilizing the situation in Idlib just three weeks away, fighting is continuing in plain sight, day in and day out.  Three million people, two thirds of them women and children, are counting on the Council’s support to halt the violence, he added.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation, “Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016), 2393 (2017), 2401 (2018) and 2449 (2018)” pertaining to Syria, he said that, as of the end of July, more than 500 civilians have been killed and hundreds injured since fighting escalated in north-western Syria in late April, according to conservative estimates.  Schools, health-care facilities, water stations and markets have also been targeted.

He added that, since the collapse of a conditional ceasefire on 5 August, dozens of communities have emptied out of northern Hama and southern Idlib, with satellite imagery revealing that entire towns and villages have been razed.  Most of those who can have fled north, further into Idlib and closer to the border with Turkey, while those who stay behind cower in the basements of what is left of their homes, he said.

Also briefing Council members, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria said the situation in Idlib must be resolved through a predominantly political solution.  He called attention to Syrians facing unprecedented levels of poverty and a sense of hopelessness alongside millions of refugees still facing obstacles to a safe, dignified and voluntary return home.

Stressing the urgent need for a nationwide ceasefire, as stipulated in Council resolution 2254 (2015), he updated members on his efforts to facilitate intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva, including plans to form a constitutional committee that would include Government and opposition representatives.  He strongly urged the Russian Federation and the United States to deepen their own dialogue.

He declared:  “We are entering a crucial month for the parties to engage with the United Nations in finalizing the constitutional committee and key international players to stabilize Idlib, the north-east and regional tensions, and come together behind the United Nations effort.”  That could enable the United Nations to convene a committee with accompanying steps to overcome deep distrust and offer some hope after “many years of darkness”, he said.  “This will not be easy, but this is the one path towards a better future for Syria and a step‑by‑step implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).”

Reiterating that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict, now in its ninth year, several Council members warned that a deterioration of the situation in Idlib, as well as ongoing humanitarian emergencies in other corners of the country, could jeopardize the fitful political process.

Belgium’s representative, speaking also for Kuwait and Germany, said he has introduced a draft resolution on the humanitarian situation in Syria with a view to working with all Council members on the text.  Speaking in his national capacity, he added that a Syria-wide ceasefire, followed by free elections and the fostering of a safe and stable society, is imperative.

The United Kingdom’s representative said the Council and the international community have failed Syria’s people, while emphasizing that President Bashar al‑Assad’s regime and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) bear primary responsibility for their suffering.  Nor can the Russian Federation’s veto of multiple Council resolutions be overlooked, he added.  The least that can be done now is to demand and implement an immediate ceasefire, he said.

In response, the Russian Federation’s representative said today’s meeting reflected the way in which the Council typically deals with Syria — by distorting humanitarian conditions.  The actions of terrorist groups are the real cause of the current situation, he emphasized, adding that history will judge those who have almost destroyed Syria, including through false statements.  Damascus has agreed to a ceasefire if others agree to pull out their heavy weaponry, he said, reiterating that the fault lies not with Syria, but with terrorists who failed to withdraw their arsenals.  Terrorists and their supporters no longer hold the upper hand and as soon as Council members recognize this, it will be possible to end the suffering of the Syrian people, he added.

Syria’s representative echoed that view, insisting that his country is exercising its sovereign right to combat terrorism.  Citing a recent report from The Hague, he said there are 4,300 European terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq, including 2,800 from Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.  He went on to affirm that the Syrian and Russian air forces do not attack civilian targets; rather, they target terrorist bases, and the real threat now is an attempt by Turkey and the United States to establish a “safe zone” on Syrian territory, which constitutes a blatant violation of national sovereignty.  He went on to describe Idlib as the world’s biggest “dumping ground” for foreign terrorist fighters, describing Kuwait’s Salafi movement and the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States as partners in sponsoring some terrorist groups.

Kuwait’s representative, however, described those accusations as baseless and false.  No Salafist movements in Kuwait support any faction in Syria, he said, emphasizing that such movements provide only humanitarian funding.  Anybody with knowledge of who perpetrated crimes against Syrians should inform the 1267 Sanctions Committee, he added.

Also speaking were representatives of the United States, France, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, China, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Germany, South Africa and Poland.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:44 p.m.

Briefings

MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, summarized the Secretary-General’s latest report, “Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016), 2393 (2017), 2401 (2018) and 2449 (2018) in Syria” (document S/2019/674).  He reported that, as of the end of July, more than 500 civilians have been killed and many hundreds more injured since the escalation of fighting in north-western Syria began in late April, according to conservative estimates.  The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have reported that 43 health facilities, 87 educational facilities, 29 water stations and 7 markets have been impacted, he said.  Over the weekend of 16-18 August, another 44 civilians were reportedly killed due to air strikes, including 16 children and 12 women, while on 26 August, 15 civilians were reportedly killed in air strikes on seven communities in Idlib Governorate, he added.  A further 17 people, including 3 women and 7 children, were reportedly killed by air strikes yesterday.

He went on to report that since the collapse of the conditional ceasefire on 5 August, dozens of communities have emptied out in northern Hama and southern Idlib, adding that satellite imagery shows entire towns and villages that have been razed.  Most of those who can have fled north, further into Idlib and closer to the border with Turkey, while those who stay behind cower in the basements of what is left of their homes.  He added that 576,000 individual displacements have been reported since May, 75 per cent more than seen during the 2018 offensive in southern Syria.  Many people are living in the open air, protected only by plastic sheets.  He went on to state that, on 22 August, the Syrian authorities announced the opening of the Morek/Soran crossing point for civilians wishing to leave the area, and the United Nations and humanitarian partners have mobile teams ready to respond.  However, it appears that relatively few people are opting to move in that direction, compared to the much larger numbers preferring to move north and west further into Idlib, he said, emphasizing the impact of those movements on agriculture in what is traditionally a fertile wheat-growing area.  Much of the 2019 harvest is lost and the capacity to prepare for the next crop compromised, he said.

Recalling that he and other United Nations officials have repeatedly called upon the parties and the Council to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, he stressed that “the rules are clear” and that there is no reason, rationale, excuse or justification for the destruction of civilian areas on the scale seen in Idlib.  In the months ahead, he added, the Board of Inquiry announced by the Secretary-General on 1 April will investigate incidents in north‑western Syria in which facilities that were either de-conflicted or had received humanitarian support from the United Nations were damaged or destroyed.  Despite all challenges, however, the humanitarian community is doing all it can to respond to the needs of the estimated 3 million people in and around Idlib, with some 15,000 aid workers providing shelter materials, food assistance and health services, he reported.  More than 1 million people are receiving general food assistance every month, and the people of Idlib are being reached exclusively through the cross-border operation from Turkey because access from within Syria remains impeded, he said, explaining that, for that reason, the Council’s renewal of resolution 2165 (2014) is crucial.

Updating Council members on developments in the Rukban camp in southern Syria, by the border with Jordan, he said that dire conditions and lack of assistance, coupled with the absence of hope for durable solutions, have led many people to leave.  A joint United Nations-Syrian Arab Red Crescent assessment mission took place last week to determine how many wish to leave and how many prefer to stay, he said.  As for Al Hol in north-eastern Syria, he added, 68,600 people — 94 per cent of them women and children and most having been exposed to violence and trauma under Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) — are living in extremely difficult conditions and facing an uncertain future, including the risk of becoming stateless.  Solutions must be found urgently, he stressed, recalling that the United Nations has repeatedly called upon Member States to ensure that their nationals are repatriated for purposes of prosecution, rehabilitation or reintegration, in accordance with international law.  Taking note of statements by the United States and Turkey regarding their plans for a “safe zone” in north-eastern Syria, he emphasized that the United Nations is not a party to that agreement and was not consulted.

He went on to underline that any such measures must ensure the safety and welfare of civilians and guarantee sustained, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access, he stressed.  Describing the large-scale relief operation that the Organization and humanitarian agencies are running throughout Syria, he said it reached 6 million people in the period covered by the report, with United Nations agencies providing food for an average 3.6 million people every month and 2.1 million people receiving health care.  However, the international humanitarian response is significantly less well‑funded than it was at this stage in 2018, he said, requesting that all those who made pledges at the Brussels conference in April implement them promptly.  Returning to the situation in Idlib, he pointed out that the first anniversary of the signing of the memorandum of understanding is three weeks away, yet the bombing and fighting continue in plain sight, day in and day out.  Three million people, two thirds of them women and children, are counting on the Council’s support to halt the violence, he said, emphasizing:  “We cannot turn back the clock on what has happened, but this Council and its members can take meaningful action now to protect civilians and ensure full respect for international humanitarian law.”  He added:  “It is within your power to do that.”

GEIR PEDERSEN, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, noted that, despite the reinstatement of the Russian Federation-Turkey ceasefire in the north‑west, violence continued to kill civilians and destroy infrastructure, forcing many to flee.  While acknowledging that there is no easy solution when countering terrorist groups, he said the situation in Idlib must be resolved through a predominantly political solution.  In the north-east, he added, there is also need for a concrete political solution that, among other things, respects Syria’s territorial integrity and addresses Turkey’s security concerns.  Israel’s rocket strikes are also worrisome, he said, urging all parties to respect Syrian territory in actions and rhetoric.  He went on to cite serious concerns in the south-west, revolving around detentions, demonstrations, disappearances and assassinations.  Lastly, he called attention to Syrians facing unprecedented levels of poverty and a sense of hopelessness alongside millions of refugees still facing obstacles to a safe, dignified and voluntary return home.

It should be clearer than ever before that there is no military solution for Syria, he continued, emphasizing the urgent need for a nationwide ceasefire, as stipulated in resolution 2254 (2015).  He said that his recent actions to facilitate intra-Syrian negotiations included meeting with the Government and the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission to forge a constitutional committee.  A package is nearly finalized, he said, noting that it covers the committee’s composition, which includes two equal co-chairs and a 75 per cent voting threshold while striving for consensus, he said, expressing hope that the United Nations will be able to announce an agreement before the General Assembly.  Commending the efforts of the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran, he strongly urged Moscow and Washington, D.C., to deepen their own dialogue, building on the efforts they have made over the course of 2019.  A viable political process must address the real‑life problems, he emphasized.  “To be a door opener, to be the moment that turns the page towards a new Syria, a constitutional committee’s launch should be accompanied by measures that have real impact on the ground.”

Real action on detainees, abductees and missing persons could be such a measure if done in a meaningful way, he continued.  While welcoming recent release operations, he said they have been vastly insufficient in scale to date and must move beyond “one‑for‑one” exchanges, with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  International players also have a responsibility to deepen their dialogue, he said, urging the Council to ensure a common global support format for Geneva with a view to healing Syrian society.  “We are entering a crucial month for the parties to engage with the United Nations in finalizing the constitutional committee and key international players to stabilize Idlib, the north-east and regional tensions, and come together behind the United Nations effort.”  That could enable the United Nations to convene a committee with accompanying steps to overcome deep distrust and offer some hope after a long period of darkness, he said.  “This will not be easy, but this is the one path towards a better future for Syria and a step-by-step implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).”

Statements

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), speaking also for Kuwait and Germany, condemned attacks on civilians and reiterated calls to halt the violence and ensure accountability.  The Council must take a unified stance against the violence, he added, emphasizing that the situation cannot continue.  As such, Belgium has presented a draft resolution on the humanitarian situation with a view to working on the text with all other members.  Speaking in his national capacity, he said it is imperative to establish a national ceasefire, hold fair elections and foster a safe, stable society.  Belgium anticipates the rapid establishment of a constitutional committee, he said, adding that, while not an end in itself, such a committee must accurately and inclusively represent all Syrians.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), expressing regret about the continuing grave conditions in Idlib, said the Assad regime is supporting targeted air strikes and escalating the violence.  As such, the United States calls for a resolution addressing that situation, he added.  Despite statements by the Russian Federation, what is happening is not counter-terrorism, but a violent attack on those who disagree with the Assad regime, he said, calling for a full investigation.  Urging all Council members to ensure that the United Nations has the ability to conduct cross-border humanitarian aid operations, he said the Syrian regime must provide access for humanitarian agencies to reach populations in need.  In view of the inability of the Astana guarantors to make political progress, the United States calls on them to leave the formation of a constitutional committee to the United Nations, he said.  Stressing that progress on the political track will be impossible until a ceasefire is implemented and respected, he said the Assad regime must immediately release prisoners as a trust‑building measure.  Until then, the United States will do all it can to isolate “this murderous regime” and its partners.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), noting that September marks one year since the Russian Federation and Turkey signed the memorandum of understanding on Idlib, said the violence is escalating and civilians continue to be targeted.  Emphasizing that all parties must abide by international humanitarian law, he said the continuing military escalation in north-western Syria will be detrimental to the Special Envoy’s efforts.  Kuwait supports a resolution addressing the humanitarian situation in Idlib, he said, while renewing calls for the proposed constitutional committee to be balanced.  Confidence-building measures must include addressing the question of detainees, he added.

STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) said the Council and the international community have failed the people of Syria.  The Assad regime, together with Da’esh, bear primary responsibility for the suffering, he said, adding that the Russian Federation’s veto of Council resolutions cannot be overlooked.  Recalling that the crisis began eight years ago with peaceful protests seeking greater freedom and better governance, he said that he witnessed some of them himself.  At no point has the regime engaged seriously in a political process, he said.  The least that can be done is to stop the violence in Idlib by demanding and implementing an immediate ceasefire, he added, emphasizing that “there remain more babies than terrorists in Idlib”.  Expressing strong support for the draft resolution proposed by Belgium, Germany and Kuwait, he said the Council can ensure justice and accountability for crimes committed by the Assad regime and Da’esh, adding that Bashar al-Assad will face justice for his actions one day.  He went on to call upon the Council to maintain “a laser-like focus” on actions by the regime’s military units and commanders, the Russian Federation and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in the Idlib area and to hold them accountable.  Noting that the conflict has undermined and weakened the United Nations and the wider international system, he said that, if Member States are to uphold the ideals of the Charter of the United Nations, they must do more to prevent criminal rogue regimes from violating international law and imposing death and suffering on their own people.  Respect for national sovereignty can never by a licence for a leader to commit war crimes against his own people, he stressed.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said the weapons of Idlib must be silenced as a matter of urgency.  Expressing concern about the intensification of the regime offensive, she called upon the signatories to the Idlib ceasefire to fulfil their commitments.  France supports the dialogue between Turkey and the United States regarding north-eastern Syria, as well as the initial steps towards a security mechanism, she said, adding that such efforts must include fighting Da’esh, which remains a major security threat.  Affirming that respect for international humanitarian law is non-negotiable, she emphasized the need to protect civilians and humanitarian workers and to provide safe and unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Syria.  It is unacceptable that schools and health-care facilities remain targets of attack, she said, expressing France’s full support for the Secretary-General’s investigation into that matter.  Those in a position to do so must exert pressure on the regime to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access.  She went on to stress that, urgent as the situation in Idlib may be, it must not distract attention from the need for a political solution.  It is more necessary than ever to finalize a constitutional package that would be followed by a meeting of the constitutional committee in Geneva, she said.  To end the tragedy in Syria, its people must be able to express themselves on the future of their country, including through free and transparent elections under United Nations supervision, in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015), she added.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) called for an end to recent attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, urging all sides to fully respect international humanitarian law and strictly uphold the September 2018 memorandum of understanding on Idlib.  Recalling the Security Council’s decision to establish a Board of Inquiry to investigate incidents in north-western Syria, he emphasized the importance of impartiality on the part of expert members in carrying out their mandate.  Expressing concern about the dire situation in Rukban camp, he stressed the need to ensure the sustainable delivery of humanitarian assistance and access to civilians in need.  Indonesia was pleased to hear from the Special Envoy the encouraging development on the constitutional committee, he said, noting:  “We cannot secure a credible political process without a successful de-escalation in Idlib.”

GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) said the chronic violence is the major obstacle to the political process.  Noting the deteriorating situation in Idlib, in which recent hostilities have killed more than 500 civilians and displaced 578,000 others, he called upon the warring factions to respect the 2018 de-escalation agreement.  He commended the negotiations on forming a constitutional committee and encouraged the parties to engage in dialogue to resolve outstanding issues, including the question of detainees.

PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) said the responsibility to protect civilians in north‑eastern Syria by implementing existing or new approaches remains vital and the Council must lend its full support.  As for the humanitarian crisis, the international community must continue to rally behind efforts to address the needs of refugees and internally displaced persons, he added.  Expressing hope that bilateral arrangements in the north will not affect the work of humanitarian agencies, he said he is also hopeful that the Special Envoy’s efforts continue to meet more substantial progress towards forming a constitutional committee and establishing confidence-building measures.

YAO SHAOJUN (China) said that establishing a constitutional committee is the most realistic approach in seeking to move forward, urging the international community to stand behind the Special Envoy and support the Astana process.  Emphasizing that rampant terrorism poses a major threat to the political process, he said the proper solution to the Idlib issue is linked to maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity.  Recalling that the Russian Federation and Turkey recently agreed on related ways to move forward, he said tailored measures must be applied to humanitarian challenges, including in camps around the country.  In addition, the international community must support Syria’s efforts to restore its economy, he said, noting that China currently supports the Government’s post-war reconstruction efforts, among others.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic), expressing support for the proposal by Belgium, Kuwait and Germany, said Council members must remain focused on the goal of a credible political process, owned and led by Syrians and facilitated by the United Nations, that will open the door to the rule of law and sustainable development.  Urging the Special Envoy to continue championing that goal and to consolidate the Organization’s role as guarantor and facilitator, he warned that lack of trust in the political process among the Syrian opposition and civil society could jeopardize a sustainable political outcome.  He went on to stress the need for progress in fully implementing the September 2018 ceasefire agreement, ensuring the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, ending arbitrary detention, and the unilateral release from detention of women, children, sick persons and those with disabilities.  Warning that the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the north-east could ultimately bury any opportunity to forge ahead with the political process, he urged the donor community to step up financing for the humanitarian response as soon as possible.

AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) said the conflict in Syria might be generating fewer headlines, yet it remains one of the world’s most complex humanitarian crises.  All parties involved in the conflict must comply with all Idlib-related agreements, which are designed to combat terrorists while also protecting civilians, she said, emphasizing that international humanitarian law must be rigorously upheld.  She urged all parties to work harder to prevent the situation from spiralling further out of control, stressing that attacking schools and health-care facilities risks undermining efforts to resolve the conflict while also posing a grave threat to regional security.  She expressed high hopes for the Board of Inquiry launched by the Secretary-General, saying she looks forward to its findings in the coming weeks.  Turning to the political track, she said all necessary conditions are in place for convening a constitutional committee, and emphasized the obligation of all sides, including the Government and the armed opposition, to support the Special Envoy’s efforts.

JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said there can be no excuse for attacking innocent civilians and destroying hospitals and schools with targeted aerial strikes and the displacement of 500,000 civilians.  Reminding the Russian Federation and Syria that counter-terrorism operations do not override their responsibility to protect civilians or any other obligations under international humanitarian law, he said they must immediately stop their military offensive in and around Idlib.  Regarding the proposed constitutional committee, he said the Syrian regime continues its policy of obstruction and procrastination and expressed concern about reports that regime intelligence services engage in threats and intimidation against prospective constitutional committee members.  Damascus must stop such actions, he said.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said today’s meeting reflects how the Council typically deals with the Syria issue, by distorting humanitarian conditions.  The real cause of the current situation is the actions of terrorist groups in the relevant areas, he said, adding that history will judge those who have almost destroyed Syria, including by making false statements.  Meanwhile, the Astana guarantors have made intensive efforts, in cooperation with the Special Envoy and the Government of Syria, in working towards further cooperation.  He encouraged all parties genuinely interested in resolving the conflict not to throw the Astana process aside.  Recalling that a joint Russian Federation-Turkey-Iran statement placed emphasis on stabilizing the situation on the ground and confirmed the drive to eradicate terrorist activities, he emphasized that Idlib remains the main theatre of tensions, with terrorist groups exacerbating the situation by attacking Syrian armed forces and Russian military facilities.  Pointing out that the Syrian Government agreed to the ceasefire if all other parties would agree to withdraw heavy weaponry, he said the fault rests with the terrorists, who failed to withdraw their arsenals, and not with Syria.

Citing other blatant provocations by terrorists, he said journalists were recently able to see where these groups were using civilian infrastructure as a base for their activities.  Despite alleged “end of ISIL” claims, the terrorist group is re-inventing itself, he said.  The Russian Federation supports maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity with a view to contributing to regional security, he added.  It continues to support efforts to address concerns about the Rukban camp, which is located in the United States-occupied area, he said, noting that many of those in the camp have been able to return to areas controlled by Damascus.  What is important now is helping Syria by abiding by the principles of international law, he emphasized, noting that, as soon as Syrian forces make gains, Council colleagues start to call for an end to military strikes, even when there is obvious need for counter-terrorism operations.  Declaring a consensus in favour of a new peace in Syria, he said terrorists and those supporting them no longer hold the upper hand.  As soon as Council members recognize this, it will be possible to end the suffering of the Syrian people, he added.

XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) urged all parties to respect their obligations to protect civilians and infrastructure in accordance with international humanitarian law.  At the same time, counter-terrorism operations should not be deployed at the cost of civilian lives, he said, adding that efforts must be made to ensure the safe return of displaced persons and refugees.  The situation can only be resolved through a political process, he stressed, calling for the full implementation of resolution 2254 (2015).  Recognizing the role of the Astana process, he commended the Special Envoy’s efforts to establish a constitutional committee, saying the entity should be inclusive, and urged respect for Syria’s territorial integrity.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), Council President for August, spoke in her national capacity, saying the current situation in Syria remains unacceptable.  Any military operation should be conducted fully in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law, she added.  Protecting civilians and ensuring unhindered access to humanitarian assistance are not a choice but a legal obligation, she stressed.  “That is why we should focus on the need to enhance multilateral cooperation and uphold international law to address the multiple challenges not only in Syria, but in a wider regional perspective.”  That is why Poland convened a high-level Council debate two weeks ago on challenges to peace and security in the Middle East, she recalled.  At Poland’s initiative, the Council issued a presidential statement on the need for enhanced efforts to promote compliance with international humanitarian law, she said, noting that it took that action on the seventieth anniversary of the adoption of the Geneva Conventions.

BASHAR JA'AFARI (Syria) said that some Council members are speaking as though they are the Special Envoy himself, even drawing up their own road maps which do not respect the mandate and only obstruct ongoing efforts.  Syria will only enjoy peace and security when foreign countries end their occupation and support for terrorist groups, he said, adding that his country is exercising its sovereign right to combat terrorism.  Citing a recent report from The Hague, he said there are currently 4,300 European terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq, 2,800 of whom are from Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.  Indeed, there are 400 Belgian terrorists fighting against the Government of Syria right now, he noted, recalling his previous warning to the Council that the first identified foreign terrorist fighter in Syria was Belgian.  The campaign of lies is an attempt to mar the image of the Syrian State, he said, recalling that the liberation of Aleppo’s eastern areas provoked fabrications of “forced starvation” and use of chemical weapons.

Reiterating that the Syrian and Russian air forces do not attack civilian targets, he emphasized that their air operations target terrorist bases.  Presenting another example of misinformation, he said Idlib’s population is 1 million, not 3 million.  Turning to recent examples of progress, he said the Government has taken a stand on maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity, and a meeting of concerned parties has boosted cooperation among the Astana guarantors to ensure positive steps forward.  The real threat now is the occupation by the United States and Turkey, which created a new reality on the ground by attempting to establish a “safe zone” on Syrian territory.  That decision constitutes a blatant violation of Syria’s rights as a sovereign nation, he said.  That reflects a dangerous reality in which two antagonist countries support terrorist groups in a third — Syria.

Meanwhile, the United States delegation has supported 20 related Council resolutions, he said, asking the Council for an explanation of actions by Turkey and the United States inside his country.  The Government has worked towards opening humanitarian corridors and meeting the needs of civilians.  In addition, it has already sent an entire ICRC hospital to the Al Hol camp.  These facts were not included in the latest United Nations reports, he noted.  Citing another recent report, he said Idlib is the world’s biggest “dumping ground” for foreign terrorist fighters.  Describing armed groups in Idlib as terrorist organizations that cannot be “recycled” and presented as opposition forces, he said Kuwait’s Salafi movement and the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States are partners in sponsoring some terrorist groups.  Efforts must be made to help the Government of Syria fund the humanitarian response plan, which remains only 28 per cent funded, and to lift coercive economic measures, he stressed.

Mr. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), taking the floor a second time, described his Syrian counterpart’s accusations about Kuwait as baseless and false.  No Salafist movements in Kuwait support any faction in Syria, he said, emphasizing that such movements only provide humanitarian funding.

Mr. JA’AFARI (Syria) also took the floor for a second time, referring to a 2013 article in The New York Times about Kuwaitis and the conflict in Syria, said he was not accusing the Government of Kuwait, but rather drawing attention to Kuwaiti nationals going to Syria as terrorists.  If Kuwait has any concern for such monsters, it should take them back, he added.

Mr. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said the article was about an individual named “Al-Mteiri”, which is, in fact, a tribe of 2 million in Kuwait.  If anybody knows of anyone who perpetrated crimes against Syrians, they should inform the 1267 Sanctions Committee.

Mr. JA’AFARI (Syria) said the Government of Syria has provided names to committees involved in countering terrorism.

Mr. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said it is unacceptable to accuse his country of terrorism, pointing out that it did not oppose the addition of an individual named on the 1267 Sanctions List.

For information media. Not an official record.