‘Genuine progress’ towards political solution, essential to end war in Syria: UN envoy

‘Genuine progress’ towards political solution, essential to end war in Syria: UN envoy

The year 2023 has presented more challenges for Syria, marked by devastating earthquakes, escalating humanitarian needs and the most severe fighting in years, the UN’s envoy for the country said on Thursday.

Briefing ambassadors at the Security Council, Geir Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria, noted that though there have been some diplomatic breakthroughs none led to tangible changes on the ground for civilians.

He also raised the alarm over the impact on the region of the devastating Israel-Palestine crisis.

On top of killings, injuries, displacement, abduction and detention, “Syrians now face the danger of regional spillover adding further fuel to the fire,” he said.

Worsening situation

Mr. Pedersen said the last weeks had seen multiple airstrikes across Syria, attributed to Israel, with the Damascus and Aleppo airports reportedly rendered non-operational.

“Currently, only Latakia airport is functional, affecting both civilian air traffic and the UN humanitarian operations,” he said.

Furthermore, there were multiple reports of missiles launched from southern Syria over the Occupied Syrian Golan towards Israel, and near-daily attacks on US positions in northeast Syria, he added.

“And in parallel, violence in all theatres of Syria continues and is even escalating once again in some respects, with alarming reports of civilian casualties,” the UN envoy said.

Special Envoy Geir Pedersen briefs the Security Councila via video link.

Need for ‘maximum restraint’

Underscoring the “urgent need for maximum restraint” by all actors – Syrians and non-Syrians – Mr. Pedersen said that no one should “delude themselves” that this worrying new-normal of ongoing escalation is in any way sustainable.

“Any major escalation would have devastating consequences in a deeply fragile situation, where de facto authorities and the presence and actions of foreign armies are key features of the landscape,” he warned.

“We need to see sustained de-escalation in and on Syria, towards a nationwide ceasefire, and a cooperative approach to countering Security Council-listed terrorist groups,” he urged, calling on all actors to operate in full compliance with international humanitarian law to ensure protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

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Unsustainable status quo

Highlighting that the challenges on the ground are “symptoms of a conflict that no one actor or existing group of actors can solve alone”, Mr. Pedersen stressed the need for a political process that makes “genuine progress towards a political solution”.

In conclusion, the UN Special Envoy said that as 2023 draws to close, rising violence and frustration, including protests, “should remind us that the status quo is unsustainable”.

“It is unacceptable, and this conflict cannot be left unattended. It also shows that partial approaches are unlikely to address the depths of Syrians’ despair or contain the conflict sustainably,” he said.

Cross-border aid still ‘indispensable’

Also briefing the Security Council, Lisa Doughten, Director of Humanitarian Finance and Resource Mobilization at the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), spoke of the continued suffering of civilians.

Against the backdrop of the sharp uptick in fighting, “cross-border relief operations remain an indispensable lifeline” for more than four million people in need in northwest Syria, she said, adding that the sheer scale of need nationwide “underscores the urgency of scaling up the delivery of aid via all modalities.”

She also informed Council members that a lack of funding is severely OCHA’s ability to respond.

Two weeks from the end of the year, the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria is only 33 per cent funded. Just $1.8 billion has been received out of the required $5.4 billion.  

“As we have repeatedly warned, this lack of resources is severely constraining our ability to provide critical life-saving assistance to millions of people in need,” she said.

UNDOF peacekeepers patrol the Golan Heights area. (file)
UN Photo/Wolfgang Grebien
UNDOF peacekeepers patrol the Golan Heights area. (file)

Security Council renews mandate of UN Force

Also on Thursday, the Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) for a further six months, until 30 June 2024.

Unanimously adopting resolution 2718 (2023), which was co-penned by Russia and the United States, the Council called upon all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions throughout the country, including in the UNDOF area of operations, and to respect international humanitarian law.

UNDOF was established in May 1974, following the agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan, following the 1973 war. Since then, the UN Force has remained in the area to maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria and to supervise the implementation of the disengagement agreement.

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