The mounting military escalation in north-west Syria has spiked dramatically in recent days, resulting in a level of civilian displacement and carnage long feared by the international community, the top United Nations official in the country said today during a late-breaking meeting of the Security Council.
“We are witnessing the humanitarian catastrophe that the Secretary-General has warned of,” said Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, who briefed the 15-member Council via videoconference alongside his humanitarian counterpart. Noting that the situation in and around the north-western Idlib Governorate has further escalated since the Council’s last meeting, he described heavy strikes from both the air and ground, as well as massive waves of civilian displacement and major loss of life.
Recalling that Syrian Government forces launched a ground offensive in the area following the dissolution of a 12 January ceasefire agreement between Turkey and the Russian Federation, he described attacks by various Council-designated terrorist groups during the same period, as well as direct clashes between Turkish and Syrian Government forces. “We appear to have lost sight of the principle of proportionality,” he said, noting that Idlib’s civilian population of nearly 3 million comprises, in part, people who have already fled from other parts of Syria. Against that backdrop, he warned that the Government’s current approach to drive terrorists out of Idlib creates a real risk of a bloody and protracted “last stand” on the Turkish border. Calling for an immediate ceasefire followed by a step-by-step approach aimed at building confidence among the parties, he said that an agreement to stabilize Syria remains possible.
Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that the escalation’s impact on civilians has been severe, with 373 civilians killed since 1 December and 49 deaths recorded between 1 and 5 February alone. Three humanitarian workers from United Nations partner organizations have been killed. The vast majority of people continue to move north and west into the ever-smaller enclave controlled by non-Government groups, which are now “dramatically overcrowded”, and the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 53 medical facilities have stopped operations due to the fighting.
The United Nations — and broader humanitarian community — are doing their utmost to meet the needs of the 3 million people in the area, with 1,227 aid trucks sent through Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam border crossings in January, he said, pointing out: “This is the most aid the UN has sent across the border in any month since the operation was authorized in 2014.” His team continues its dialogue with all parties to seek cross-line access and will use all options available to reach people in need. How severe the crisis becomes will depend on whether a solution is found to ease the situation for those in harm’s way, he said, emphasizing that time is short and echoing the appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
“Iblib, more and more, becomes a synonym for carnage,” said the representative of Germany, as Council members took the floor. Outlining “truly shocking” humanitarian statistics from official and reliable United Nations sources, he pledged — also on behalf of Belgium as the two co-penholders on the Syrian humanitarian file — to do everything possible to shed light on the consequences of the war in Syria. Meanwhile, the Council must fulfil its responsibility to protect human life, he said, stressing: “Not less but more engagement is needed.”
The United Kingdom’s representative said that people who fled fighting in Aleppo for Idlib now find themselves under even greater attack, which she called a vicious campaign of attrition. Condemning the repeated flouting of international humanitarian law, she said that while Turkey has made efforts to seek a peaceful solution, Syrian authorities have ignored previous ceasefire agreements. She urged the Secretary-General to consider whether the United Nations, beyond its critical humanitarian role, can also assist in achieving a lasting ceasefire.
The representative of the Russian Federation voiced scepticism about today’s unplanned meeting, pointing out that such meetings are only convened when terrorists in Syria are under threat and the Government is regaining control of its territory. Meanwhile, no attention is paid to terrorist violations in other parts of the country, including the city of Homs, where terror groups have destroyed oil and gas infrastructure. Citing some delegations’ condemnations of assaults on the people of Idlib, he emphasized that the latter is not a country but a Syrian province. The Russian Federation is cooperating with Turkey to decrease tensions, notably through the Astana format, he said.
Syria’s representative said that some Council members have sought to discredit and demonize his country for more than eight years. Thanking those Council members who have sought to end the aggression of the “new Ottoman militias” — Turkish forces and mercenaries hailing from Central Asia and elsewhere — he also praised delegations which have condemned the ongoing United States occupation of parts of Syria. The United States continues to protect Turkey from responsibility for its crimes against international law, he said, rejecting any attempts to impose a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) agenda on Syria or to manipulate the United Nations Charter.
The representative of Turkey, meanwhile, said that his country’s forces retaliated in self-defence following the killing of seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian on 3 February. All deployments of his Government’s armed forces have been coordinated with Russian authorities. Despite such notifications, the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad opened fire on Turkish positions. To be clear, “Turkey will not withdraw its forces and will not evacuate any observation post,” he said. Noting that his country hosts nearly 4 million Syrians — almost one fifth of Syria’s population before the start of the conflict – he said that the current conditions were created by “the tyrant in Damascus” who refused to meet his people’s legitimate demands.
Also speaking were representatives of the United States, France, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Viet Nam, South Africa, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Indonesia, Tunisia, China, Belgium and Iran.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 5:08 p.m.
GEIR O. PEDERSEN, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, briefing the Council via videoconference from Geneva, said that the situation in north-west Syria has further escalated since the Council’s last meeting, with heavy strikes from both air and ground causing massive waves of civilian displacement and major loss of life. “We are witnessing the humanitarian catastrophe that the Secretary-General has warned of,” he said. Recalling that Turkey and the Russian Federation agreed to a ceasefire on 12 January, he said that heavy clashes and mutual shelling nevertheless continued in the days that followed. On 14 January, air strikes by the Syrian Government and their allies resumed. Syrian forces have since launched a ground offensive in the south-eastern parts of the Idlib de-escalation zone, establishing control over the town of Maarat al-Numan, whose population fled the attacks. In Idlib city, there are reports of civilians fleeing, and an aerial bombardment in support of the Government’s offensive reportedly continues.
During the same period, he said, the Council-designated terrorist group Hayat Tahir al-Sham and other armed opposition groups launched several attacks and counter-attacks along the same fronts — including western Aleppo and al-Bab in northern Aleppo. Noting that reports have also emerged of weaponized drones being launched on Syrian and Russian Federation military installations, resulting in the deaths of Russian military personnel, he said that Turkish and Syrian Government forces have directly clashed inside Syria. A Turkish observation post near Saraqeb was struck by Syrian Government artillery on 3 February, killing seven Turkish soldiers and injuring several others. Since then, there have also been reports of dozens of Syrian Government forces killed in Turkish strikes.
Recalling the Secretary-General’s warning that those recent developments constitute a “change in the nature of the conflict”, he said that calls for de-escalation have not been heeded. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and more than half a million displaced, as people flee into ever-shrinking areas where they hope they will find relative safety. “We appear to have lost sight of the principle of proportionality,” he said, reminding the parties that attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure — including on schools and health-care facilities — are unacceptable. All military operations, including those against and by terrorist groups, must respect the requirements of international humanitarian law.
“Idlib is the place that became a refuge for hundreds of thousands of civilians from other parts of Syria who fled violence,” he said, noting that as a result the city’s population has swollen to about 3 million – the vast majority of whom are women and children. As Idlib is also the place where fighters who refused to “settle their status” earlier also sought refuge, it also now houses members of Hayat Tahir al-Sham and other Council-proscribed terrorist groups, as well as foreign terrorist fighters. Describing their presence as a major challenge, he nevertheless stressed: “We know from bitter experience that a continued all-out military approach will not solve this problem.” Indeed, the current approach creates a real risk of a bloody and protracted “last stand” on the Turkish border, with grave consequences for civilians.
Calling instead for a step-by-step approach aimed at building confidence among the parties, he emphasized that an agreement to stabilize Syria remains possible. Idlib is a de-escalation area established by an agreement in 2017 and was the subject of a further agreement between Turkey and the Russian Federation in September 2018. Such agreements can enable prolonged periods of calm. Outlining his own mediation efforts — including through recent meetings in Moscow and Damascus and with Turkish officials — he said there is an urgent need for a ceasefire and immediate, unfettered humanitarian access. The situation must be contained in order to provide additional time to enable solutions to be found. Meanwhile, he stressed that the provision of support to any internationally proscribed terrorist groups must be further restricted and any use of force against such groups must be carefully targeted.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Syria’s north-west has substantially escalated, with daily reports of shelling and air strikes on dozens of communities. The impact on civilians has been severe, with 373 civilians killed since 1 December and 49 deaths recorded between 1 and 5 February alone. Three humanitarian workers from United Nations partner organizations have been killed. While many of the attacks have been reported close to the frontlines, there has been an escalation in major civilian centres, with one of the most serious incidents in the last two months on 15 January, when some 19 civilians are believed to have died during an air strike on the al-Hal vegetable market in Idlib.
He said that the vast majority of people continue to move north and west into the ever-smaller enclave controlled by non-Government groups, which are now “dramatically overcrowded”. The area already hosts large internally displaced populations and there is no unused capacity left in formal camps in Idlib, forcing people to camp on agricultural land with no infrastructure. Some 144,000 people have moved north out of Idlib into Turkey-controlled areas in Afrin, Azaz and Al Bab. The United Nations continues to work with the Russian Federation to try to agree on pauses in the hostilities along pre-identified routes to allow those fleeing to reach temporary safety. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 53 medical facilities have stopped operations due to the direct impact of fighting or because the doctors themselves need to move to safer places. Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure are unacceptable; they must end. An immediate cessation of hostilities is needed, as is a broader ceasefire — the only way to ensure that civilians are protected.
Stressing that the United Nations — and broader humanitarian community — are doing their utmost to meet the needs of 3—million people in Syria’s north-west, with 1,227 aid trucks sent through Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam border crossings in January, he said nearly 900 trucks carried food assistance for some 1.4 million people, while others carried health supplies. “This is the most aid the UN has sent across the border in any month since the operation was authorized in 2014,” he insisted. This week, his team released another Humanitarian Readiness and Response Plan for the north-west, requesting $336 million for the next six months, the biggest need being for shelter and protection against winter conditions, he said, adding that the December release of $44 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund was the largest single allocation since the war began. Today, he is releasing a further $30 million from the Fund as the first resources for the new response plan in Idlib.
His team is continuing its dialogue with all parties to seek cross-line access and will use all options available to reach people in need, he continued. However, there has been no substantive progress on cross-line access since last week. “Needs are growing exponentially,” he said. “What we have been warning you about is happening.” How severe the crisis becomes will depend on whether a solution is found to ease the situation for those in harm’s way. Time is short. The frontline has moved to within kilometres of Idlib city, the largest urban centre in the north-west. He echoed the appeal for an immediate end to hostilities and a serious international effort to cooperate on Idlib, as a humanitarian imperative. A ceasefire would be a first step, followed by genuine dialogue towards a sustainable political solution pursuant to resolution 2254 (2015).
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said that people who fled fighting in Aleppo for Idlib find themselves under even greater attack, which she called a vicious campaign of attrition. She condemned the repeated flouting of international humanitarian law, with millions now facing a protection crisis. Welcoming an investigation by the United Nations Board of Inquiry as to why de-conflicted sites have been targeted, she said that since 1 December, the continued onslaught by Syria, backed by the Russian Federation and Iran, has displaced more than 550,000 people — more than the population of Sochi. While Turkey has made efforts to seek a peaceful solution, Syrian authorities have ignored the memorandum of understanding, and multiple ceasefires have been violated as quickly as they have been announced. The United Kingdom, along with France and the United States, requested today’s meeting to call for an immediate, genuine and lasting ceasefire in Idlib and a lasting solution to the situation there. “We’ve heard a lot of superlatives today,” she said, including that the Central Emergency Relief Fund has released the largest allocation since the war began. She questioned how many more will be needed before Syria sticks to a ceasefire. It is the United Nations and the Council, not the Astana format, which should remain the guardian of a process leading to a sustainable solution. She urged the Secretary-General to consider if the United Nations, beyond its critical humanitarian role, can assist in achieving a lasting ceasefire. The United Kingdom will support any United Nations-backed agreement, she said, noting that it is providing $50 million in aid to north-west Syria in 2020, and has spent over $3 billion to help Syria since the conflict began. She asked Syria’s representative to explain why the conflict persists.
KELLY CRAFT (United States) said that she is appalled at the Assad regime’s escalation of violence in the north-west, which is deliberate, lethal violence against thousands of innocent people. The Assad regime and its allies have rejected Council efforts to restore stability through a United Nations-facilitated process. If the Council is to retain a shred of credibility, it cannot ignore the resolutions it adopts. Recalling that the Council adopted 2254 (2015) unanimously, she said that all its elements are now in the crosshairs, with the situation in Syria’s north-west demanding an immediate, comprehensive and enforceable ceasefire — something which the Astana group cannot ensure, as Russian bombs have destroyed hospitals and driven children from their homes. Such actions demonstrate that neither the Russian Federation, nor Iran or the Assad regime can be trusted to deliver a ceasefire or a political solution. The United States has no faith in the Astana process, and she urged the Special Envoy to work to create an immediate ceasefire in the north-west. All parties must advance implementation of resolution 2254 (2015), notably by supporting United Nations efforts to establish a nationwide ceasefire and ensure that the cross-border assistance authorized by resolution 2504 (2020) can reach millions of civilians trapped by the Assad regime’s assault. While the regime seems inoculated against shame, it should not think that cruelty and violence will go unanswered, she said, expressing support for Turkey to respond in self-defence to the regime’s attacks on its observation posts, which resulted in the death of Turkish personnel.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) agreed that the deplorable strategy of the Syrian regime has moved into a new phase in recent months. Describing the most recent attacks on Idlib as unprecedented in scale, he condemned the Assad regime’s attacks on civilians, which have effectively thrown hundreds of thousands of people out onto the street. He urged the signatories to the 2018 Sochi Agreement — especially the Russian Federation — to abide by the terms of that accord and to respect humanitarian law. Noting that the current strategy only magnifies the terrorist threat, driving further radicalization, he warned that it also risks spreading terrorism further afield through the current massive displacement. Attacks against health-care facilities — including those subject to the international deconfliction mechanism — are unacceptable and constitute war crimes that cannot go unpunished. “The tragedy that we are seeing today means it is more necessary than ever to have a political solution,” he stressed, rejecting the current approach which seeks a purely military end to the conflict.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) described today’s meeting as an opportunity for the Council to strengthen its moral responsibility to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. Directing several questions to the Special Envoy, he asked what concrete steps are being taken to bring about an immediate cessation of hostilities and to prevent a full confrontation in Idlib, which must be avoided at all costs. He also asked the Special Envoy to elaborate on the status of the Syria’s ongoing Constitutional Committee process, describing it as unacceptable that progress on that front has stalled. “Without a doubt, [the Constitutional Committee] is the key to a more broad-based political process,” he said, underlining his delegation’s firm condemnation of any attacks on civilians and demanding an immediate end to hostilities, as well as unhindered humanitarian access.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) said that the ceasefire established by the Astana format has failed, expressing extreme concern about the possibility of a full-scale military confrontation among Turkish, Russian and Syrian regime forces. He demanded a nationwide humanitarian ceasefire to stop the unfolding catastrophe, not only because of the immense human suffering due to the indiscriminate bombardment by the Syrian army and Russian airplanes, but also because of the link between peace and the political process. “Stopping the violence — that is the simple precondition for a meaningful dialogue,” he said, stressing that the deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals violates international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 is crucial in that regard, he said, expressing hope of hearing from other Syrian parties and stressing that the only solution is a genuine political transition.
PHAM HAI ANH (Viet Nam) said that recent numbers shared by the briefers are heart-rending, especially when it comes to children. Civilian protection must be among the top priorities of the parties, and they must maintain health facilities and humanitarian services on the ground. He called on all concerned to end the hostilities, exercise maximum restraint, strictly observe international law, especially international humanitarian law, and respect relevant Council resolutions. The conflict must be settled through a political solution, respecting the United Nations Charter — especially its principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference — and the aspirations of Syrians themselves. He also called for redoubled efforts to lower tensions, and for international partners to intensify their bilateral and multilateral diplomatic efforts.
MARTHINUS VAN SHALKWYK (South Africa) said that all parties must make every effort to reduce tensions. At the same time, all States have a sovereign right to address the threat of terrorism within their borders, with actions aligned with international human rights and humanitarian law obligations. However, external support must cease immediately. Given the chronic cycle of the displacement of civilians, all parties must adhere to their obligations to protect civilians, who are facing impossible circumstances. A full military confrontation must be avoided at all costs, he said, urging parties to abide by their commitments under various ceasefire arrangements and to call for a cessation of hostilities throughout Syria. Reiterating that the political and humanitarian situations cannot be addressed independently, he called on all parties to make the necessary effort to commit to continued dialogue towards resolving the conflict.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), reflecting on the current situation, said that what was intended as a de-escalation zone is now the epicentre for anguish. Condemning attacks on civilians, she implored all parties to recommit to a ceasefire. Reminding parties that military and counter-terrorism operations must comply with international humanitarian law, she said that atrocities committed must be addressed and perpetrators held accountable. As the humanitarian situation worsens, a Syrian-owned, Syria-led political solution is ever more needed. For its part, the international community must consider the perspectives of the Government of Syria, as it is for the Syrian people to determine the future of their country. Citing an African proverb, she said “when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers,” adding that the Council must continue to speak for the Syrian people who are paying the highest price of this conflict with their suffering.
ROLLIANSYAH SOEMIRAT (Indonesia) said that while his delegation values every Council meeting, it also prefers that they are conducted appropriately and as needed, without creating additional gaps among its members. It is a priority that the Council stand united in addressing its Syrian dossiers. Calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities in north-west Syria, he said that the parties must fully respect their obligations to protect civilians under international law. Turning to the immediate needs of civilians, he said that many of the 390,000 people who have fled hostilities recently have been displaced multiple times. “They are vulnerable and need urgent humanitarian support,” he said, urging the Syrian parties to pursue concrete efforts to move forward the work of the Constitutional Committee. Previous ceasefire agreements must be fully respected and implemented, he added, calling on the parties to avoid armed confrontations that would only increase the number of displaced people and further increase the suffering of civilians.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), also speaking on behalf of Belgium as the two co-penholders, declared: “Iblib, more and more, becomes a synonym for carnage.” Outlining recent statistics from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, he said that more than 586,000 people are believed to have been displaced by the recent offensive in Idlib. Those truly shocking numbers come from official and reliable United Nations sources, he stressed, not from the Internet or from “fake news” sources. The co-penholders will do everything possible to shed light on the humanitarian consequences of the war in Syria, and the Council must fulfil its responsibility to protect human life. “Not less but more engagement is needed,” he stressed, voicing deep concern about the safety of the millions of civilians in north-west Syria. The density of the population at the Turkish border is increasing every day, as people move northward to escape the fighting. “Civilians have the right to be protected from the horror of war,” he said, emphasizing that there are rules to warfare. Condemning attacks against medical facilities and schools, as well as all attacks by Council-designated terrorist groups, he said counter-terrorism efforts can never absolve the parties from their obligations under international law.
Speaking briefly in his national capacity, he echoed those speakers who condemned the recent attack against a Turkish observation post – killing several Turkish troops — as an unacceptable escalation.
RABII ZENATI (Tunisia) voiced regret that violence continues in north-west Syria despite the Council’s calls for de-escalation and calm. Expressing deep concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he also warned of the risk of disease spreading. He condemned all attacks against civilians by any party, including Council-designated terrorist groups, and said the priority now is to reach an urgent ceasefire agreement. The Astana guarantor countries should work together to create an environment conducive to calm. De-escalation agreements are only temporary, he stressed, calling for a long-term political solution to the conflict. He also referred to Council resolution 2254 (2015), which specifically underlined the link between ceasefires and the Syrian political process and emphasized that there can be no military solution to the conflict.
WU HAITAO (China) said that the political settlement is the only way to resolve the situation in Syria and the United Nations should continue to do its utmost in that regard. Expressing support for the Special Envoy, he said that the independence of the Constitutional Committee must be maintained and work without a pre-set time frame. Committee members should demonstrate political will and participate in the dialogues, all while upholding Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In the north-west there is a complex security and humanitarian issue. Terrorists must be “resolutely crushed” in accordance with Council resolutions and international law. Weapons collected in the process should be investigated for their origin and supplies cut off. For foreign terrorist fighters, a database should be created, with measures taken to prevent them from fleeing elsewhere. He expressed deep concern about the humanitarian situation, urging the international community to support Syria’s reconstruction efforts. Only this way can Syrians lead a stable and orderly life.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the Council’s unplanned meetings follow a pattern: they are called only when terrorists in Syria are under threat and Syria’s Government is regaining control of its territory. Stressing that in December 2019 and January 2020, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham seized the de-escalation zone, he said that there were more than 1,400 terrorist attacks at the end of 2019. Such data is on the website of the Russian Defence Ministry, which also issues bulletins that seem to be of no interest to some Council colleagues. No attention is paid to terrorist violations in Homs, he said, citing destruction of oil and gas infrastructure. He advocated lifting sanctions and returning control of oil deposits to Syria — actions that would improve the humanitarian situation. Recalling that the United States Secretary of State condemned the continued ruthless assaults on the people of Idlib by the Russian Federation, Iran, Hezbollah and Syria’s Government, he clarified that Idlib is not a country, it is a Syrian province, and said that during Syria’s army counter-terrorism operation, thousands of terrorists were killed. Western countries call terrorists operating in Idlib “opposition”. He questioned calls for a national ceasefire, in line with resolution 2254 (2015), as paragraph 8 of the text cites a need to combat terrorism. The Russian Federation is cooperating with Turkey to decrease tensions, notably through contacts between their Presidents and Foreign Ministers and working within the Astana Format. The Russian Federation is committed to international humanitarian law, and its actions are proportional in nature. Recalling that Raqqa was razed to the ground, he said he did not hear any calls for a national ceasefire or national reconciliation at that time. There was a lack of Council meetings or action.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, voicing concern about the ongoing military escalation in Idlib. “Let us be clear — we support the fight against terrorism, but never, never should efforts to fight terrorism exonerate the parties from their obligations under international law,” he said. The current confrontation represents a major threat to regional peace and security, he said, adding: “Unfortunately, we know how this scenario ends — with civilians paying the price.” Calling on all the parties to exercise maximum restraint and for a complete cessation of hostilities throughout the country, he said that the parties must reach a credible, inclusive, negotiated political solution under the auspices of the United Nations in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015). Belgium, in line with its European Union partners, will not fund any reconstruction efforts until a political solution is firmly in place, he said.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that his delegation has for more than eight years drawn attention to an elephant in the room, which seeks to discredit and demonize his country. There are new reports that some non-governmental organizations seeking to aid civilians in Syria — including the Denmark Refugee Council — are having their funds blocked by banks in Europe and New York. Thanking those Council members who have sought to end the aggression of the “new Ottoman militias” — Turkish forces and mercenaries hailing from Central Asia and elsewhere — he also praised delegations which have condemned the ongoing United States occupation of parts of Syria. The tripartite forces who remain on Syrian soil illegally, pillaging the country’s gas, wheat, artefacts and other resources, must be disbanded immediately. Calling for a rejection of the most recent Israeli attacks against his country, he went on to note that mere hours ago Turkish forces met with representatives of the terrorist group Jabbar Al-Nusra near Aleppo, and then took part in yet another joint offensive.
Turning to the statement delivered today by the representative of the United States, he pointed out that she referred to Turkey as an ally, thereby rendering the Council a kind of “NATO forum”. The United States continues to protect Turkey from responsibility for its crimes against international law, he said, rejecting any attempts to impose a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) agenda on his country. Western countries continue to manipulate the United Nations Charter and spread “creative chaos” in Syria, including by supporting terrorists and hindering the Government’s efforts to combat them. As Idlib is a region of the Syrian territory, the illegitimate presence of any outside forces there is the responsibility of the State from which they hail. Recalling that several humanitarian crossings have been opened to help civilians escape operations aimed at terrorists, he said that Turkish forces continue to block those efforts and try to kill anyone who attempts to leave.
Halfway through the Syrian representative’s statement, the President of the Council urged him to conclude his remarks in line with the organ’s widely respected five-minute time limit. The representative of the Russian Federation then spoke on a point of order, stressing that as the Council is currently discussing a situation that directly affects Syria, it is the latter’s right to speak for as long as necessary. It is unacceptable to stop his statement for any artificial reason, he stressed.
FERIDUN H. SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) said that on 3 February, a “clique in Damascus” targeted Turkish forces, leading to the deaths of seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian. Turkey’s armed forces retaliated in self-defence, he said, recalling that these servicemen are in Idlib as part of the 2018 memorandum signed by Turkey and the Russian Federation to preserve Idlib’s status as a de-escalation area. All deployments of Turkey’s armed forces have been coordinated with Russian authorities. Yet, despite Turkey’s notifications, the regime opened fire on its positions, and today, some observation posts remain encircled by regime fighters. As such, Turkey was forced to deploy more troops.
Noting that Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrians — almost one fifth of Syria’s population before the start of the conflict, conditions created because “the tyrant in Damascus” refused to meet his people’s legitimate demands — he said that terror groups established their own states on Syria’s territory. The tyrant now wants to pull Turkey into his “dirty war” by targeting Turkey’s forces. Emphasizing that Turkey believes in a political solution and works with the United Nations, in line with resolution 2254 (2015), he said that any military aggression against Turkey’s security or its citizens will be severely punished. He urged the regime to withdraw from its positions until the end of February, outlining the expectation that responsible members of the international community will respect Turkey’s legitimate security concerns.
Recalling that the Russian Federation committed to take all measures to ensure that military operations and attacks on Idlib will be avoided, he said that the regime has violated the 12 January ceasefire more than 6,500 times. For its part, Turkey has conducted joint patrols with the Russian Federation and reinforced its observation posts to deter regime aggression, with the expectation that its contacts with Russian authorities will renew commitment to the Sochi understanding. To be clear, “Turkey will not withdraw its forces and will not evacuate any observation post,” he said, adding that in the last two months, the regime’s violence displaced 500,000 people, 85 per cent of them women and children. The formula outlined in resolution 2254 (2015) is a negotiated political settlement, elections under United Nations supervision, with all Syrians participating and a new constitution established. The first step is an immediate de-escalation in Idlib, he said.
MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) said that combating terrorists should be done with utmost care for the lives of civilians. “This is what we have always stressed,” he said, a point also underlined in all final documents of the Astana format. Stressing the need to implement the Sochi Agreement on Idlib and to ensure that the crisis is settled through political means, he said that terrorists must not be allowed to exploit the situation, consolidate their positions and turn Idlib into their safe haven. He advocated vigilance to not confuse the protection of civilians with the protection of terrorists. As an Astana Guarantor, Iran is ready to use its good offices to foster a political settlement between Turkey and Syria. Recalling that a summit of the Guarantors of the Astana format will take place in Tehran, he stressed that the fight against terrorism must continue unabated. Every effort must be made by all parties to protect civilians. The situation in Idlib will only be resolved through political means, he said, calling for full respect for Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence.