EYEAFRICA TV: New York, USA: United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said the scale of violence and instability in Syria is “extremely alarming” with an “ever-rising death toll” and millions of people displaced, adding that these dynamics “can and must change.”
Briefing the Security Council on August 29, Pedersen said “untold tens of thousands” are detained or missing in Syria and large parts of the Syrian territory remained “fragmented between different actors,” while a resurgent ISIL is “stepping up its guerrilla attacks.”
In Idlib, he said violence continues unabated, and stressed that counterterrorism tactics cannot put at risk the lives of three million civilians who have a right to protection under international humanitarian law. He emphasized that the solution to the situation in the country needs to be a political one.
Pedersen said tensions between Israel and Iran are “extremely worrying”, particularly following a series of Israeli airstrikes on the outskirts of Damascus. and urged all parties to “respect the sovereignty of Syria and indeed of all states in the area, by refraining from attacks and provocations and showing maximum restraint, both in action and in rhetoric.”
The Special Envoy said, despite the fighting, he has spared no effort in facilitating intra-Syrian negotiation to develop a new constitution and conduct free and fair elections under UN supervision. Regarding the constitutional committee, He said there is a strong understanding among the parties on two equal co-chairs – one nominated by the government and the other by the opposition; on UN facilitation, on a 75 percent voting threshold while striving for consensus; on a large body of 150 members and small body of 45 members; and on a clear commitment to guaranteeing the safety and security of the committee members and their relatives. He assessed that the outstanding difference were comparatively minor and was hopeful that the UN would be in a position to announce an agreement before the General Assembly.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said more than 500 civilians had been killed and many hundreds more injured since the start of the escalation in northwest Syria in late April. He said WHO and UNICEF reported that 43 health facilities, 87 educational facilities, 29 water stations, and 7 markets had all been impacted by fighting since April. He called on the parties to ensure respect for international law adding that the Board of Inquiry announced by the Secretary-General would investigate incidents in northwest Syria which damaged or destroyed facilities which have either been deconflicted or received humanitarian support from the UN.
Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said: “The rules are clear. The parties must at all times apply the principles of distinction and precaution in the conduct of hostilities and take all necessary steps to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure from attacks and the effects of violence. People’s homes, hospitals, schools, water systems and markets must be protected. There can be no reason, rationale, excuse or justification for the destruction of civilian areas on the scale seen in Idlib today.”
Lowcock said the UN was continuing to carry out relief operations and has reached 6 million people around the country this year. However, he said with less well funded than 2018 he appealed for countries who made pledges in the Brussels conference in April to take action to implement them.
Syrian ambassador Bashar Jaafari said claims that the Syrian government and its allies were targeting medical, educational, and civilian infrastructure are void and empty and stressed that the Syrian and Russian airforce were targeting terrorist compounds. He added, “There aren’t three million people in Idlib. This number is misleading, false, and not true. Idlib does not have 20 percent of Syria’s population. Idlib is a small province compared to other provinces in Syria and its population does not exceed one million.”
Jaafari said the agreement between the United States and Turkey to establish a so-called safe zone in northeastern Syria “has further exposed the US-Turkish partnership in their aggression against Syria and has categorically revealed the amount of deceit and manoeuvring that govern the politics of these two countries.” He stressed that this was a dangerous precedent for two enemy countries to publicly negotiate their infringement on the sovereignty of a third State at a time when the Security Council adopted 20 resolutions reaffirming its strong commitment to Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Syrian ambassador said the terrorist organizations operating in Syria and their backers have chosen a military solution by targeting civilian areas in Aleppo, Hama, southern Idlib, and Latakia. In return, he said the Syrian Government had opened a humanitarian corridor in the city of Suran, with the interest of its citizens in mind, to allow civilians to leave the areas on terrorist control in Idlib and Hama provinces.
Jaafari added that his Government remained committed to cooperating with the Special Envoy and stressed that all illegal foreign presence in Syria must end immediately for his mandate to succeed.