Delegates Welcome Temporary Opening of Border Crossings at Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee, Demand Unimpeded Aid Delivery to Meet Needs in Country’s North-West
The earthquakes that struck Türkiye and Syria in recent weeks have only compounded suffering for the latter’s war-weary population – already plagued by 12 years of unrelenting armed conflict – senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, calling on all parties to facilitate unimpeded access for urgent humanitarian relief.
Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said the earthquakes that began on 6 February struck when affected Syrians’ needs were highest, when the economy was at its lowest and when infrastructure was already heavily damaged. “The tragic reality is that an effective response was hampered, in part, by challenges that relate directly to the unresolved issues at the heart of the conflict,” he said. However, the earthquakes have also revealed that cooperation on Syria is possible, he noted, highlighting the remarkable good will many Syrians have demonstrated in sending relief to their fellow citizens across front lines. He also spotlighted the recent introduction of earthquake-related exemptions in several country’s sanctions regimes, as well as the relative lull in violence after the earthquake.
He nevertheless voiced concern that the present calm has been punctuated by reports of worrying incidents. Indeed, reports of civilian casualties as a result of military action are even more shocking at a time of natural disaster. Against that backdrop, he called for an immediate end to violence in all earthquake-affected areas to enable relief for the civilian population. Moreover, the transition from emergency response to post-disaster recovery will pose bigger dilemmas, he stressed, noting that a serious political way forward “will require less posturing, less rhetoric and more pragmatism”.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, also briefed the Council, outlining bleak statistics and noting the devastating scale of the earthquakes. At least 50,000 people have been killed, including 6,000 people in Syria, mostly in the country’s north-west, he said, adding that many more are injured. Tens of thousands of people remain missing. Furthermore, the worst-affected area was hit again by strong aftershocks on 27 February, inflicting additional death and destruction on an already traumatized population.
He underscored that even before this latest tragedy, 15.3 million people – 70 per cent of Syria’s population – needed humanitarian assistance. Noting that “the greatest heroism has been Syrians saving Syrians”, he said that, tragically, many first responders were victims themselves. He called on all parties to facilitate unimpeded access for humanitarian relief, highlighting that the United Nations Syria flash appeal is calling for $397.6 million to meet the most critical needs over the next three months. Meanwhile, the 2023 Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan will require $4.8 billion to address pre-existing needs, he said, stressing: “This is the largest humanitarian appeal worldwide, reflecting the scale and gravity of needs across Syria.”
Also briefing today was Rasha Muhrez, Response Director for the non-governmental organization Save the Children, who emphasized that help from the international community did not arrive in Syria at the scale and speed that was needed. When much of the entire world turned its back on Syrians, they stood by each other and saved what was left. At present, local rescue workers are clearing the rubble, while local organizations are providing children and their families with shelter, blankets and food. Underscoring that all measures to facilitate aid delivery must continue, she nevertheless declared: “We cannot be complicit in making Syria a country dependent on aid.” Syria’s future cannot be one of tents, poor health care, poor education and poor opportunities, she asserted.
As Council members took the floor, many expressed support for the recent agreement between Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, and the United Nations to open two additional border crossings – Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee in north-west Syria – for an initial period of three months. The move has allowed the United Nations to scale up its cross-border aid operation, through which it has already deployed more than 200 trucks loaded with vital assistance.
The representative of Gabon, also speaking for Ghana and Mozambique, said Syria’s decision to temporarily authorize the opening of Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee has facilitated an increase in the pace and volume of aid delivery to Syrians in need. However, he expressed concern over continuing hostilities in the north of the country, as airstrikes, mutual bombardment and clashes persist amidst a cholera outbreak. Calling for an immediate ceasefire in Syria to facilitate the delivery of aid, he urged all parties to put aside their differences during this tragic national emergency. He also called for the lifting of sanctions by all countries concerned so as not to hinder relief operations, noting that “this is not the time for political calculations”.
Japan’s delegate sounded alarm over the extremely dire humanitarian situation and the immeasurable scale of need in Syria, with the earthquakes exacerbating the country’s pre-existing crises. Stressing the crucial importance of a political solution to end the conflict, he said the humanitarian crisis cannot be fundamentally resolved without conflict resolution. In that vein, he urged all parties – especially the Syrian authorities – to fully engage with the good offices of the Special Envoy in order to advance a comprehensive political process. Moreover, he highlighted Japan’s decision to provide $27 million in emergency grant aid for earthquake damage in Syria and Türkiye.
The representative of the United Kingdom declared: “This latest tragedy has brought into sharp focus the importance of unhindered and predictable access, without conditions, into north-west Syria.” She highlighted the need for the Council to continue to monitor the situation closely in light of ongoing concerns that the regime of Bashar Al-Assad continues to interfere with aid deliveries. In that regard, she said it would be an insult to the Syrian people if the regime was allowed to use the latest tragedy to avoid taking responsibility for its actions, including its criminal use of chemical weapons against the civilian population in the town of Douma in 2018, among other crimes.
Syria’s delegate outlined his Government’s response to the earthquakes, noting that it has provided facilities and exemptions for humanitarian aid and relief workers, granted approvals and facilities to the United Nations and other international organizations and affirmed its commitment to deliver humanitarian aid on Syrian territory – including to the north-western part of the country. Moreover, by opening two additional crossings for a period of three months, the Government has enabled the passage of 368 humanitarian aid trucks to date. Calling for unconditional lifting of the unilateral coercive measures, he detailed their negative impact, such as preventing international companies from selling medicine and medical equipment, which, in turn, exacerbates the vulnerability of the health sector.
The representative of Türkiye said his Government continues to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and it has repaired the roads leading to the Bab Al-Hawa crossing. Meanwhile, it has made the border gates at the Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee crossings more available, in order to allow the faster transfer of United Nations aid in greater quantities. In addition, it continues to facilitate the Organization’s field visits to affected areas. The devastation wrought by the earthquake demonstrated the concomitant need to create momentum in Syria’s political process, he said, describing terrorism as the biggest threat to that country’s territorial integrity and to security across the region.
Also speaking were representatives of the Russian Federation, United States, Switzerland, Ecuador, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Albania, France, China, Malta and Iran.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:38 p.m.
GEIR O. PEDERSEN, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, spotlighted the earthquakes that recently struck Türkiye and Syria, which have caused “unspeakable” suffering for millions of people. The earthquakes struck when affected Syrians’ needs were highest, when services were scarcest, when the economy was at its lowest and when infrastructure was already heavily damaged. Underscoring that the immediate priority is emergency humanitarian response, he urged all to depoliticize the same. “This means access”, he said, stressing that “this is not the time to play politics with crossings across borders or front lines”. “This means resources”, he added, urging all to give quickly and generously to Syria and to remove all hindrances to relief reaching Syrians in all affected areas. “And this means calm”, as this is not the time for military action or violence”, he emphasized.
“The tragic reality is that an effective response was hampered, in part, by challenges that relate directly to the unresolved issues at the heart of the conflict,” he went on to say. Recalling his repeated warnings that the situation in Syria is unsustainable, that the status quo is unacceptable and that the Syrian people are acutely vulnerable to issues not solely in their hands, he pointed out that “it has taken tragic earthquakes to reveal this clearly”. He noted, however, that the earthquakes are also revealing that it is possible to work for the common good, to make positive moves and to cooperate over Syria. In this regard, he highlighted remarkable goodwill among many Syrians to send relief to their fellow citizens across front lines; the recent introduction of earthquake-related exemptions in several unilateral sanctions regimes; the Government’s decision to open the two crossing points of Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee from Türkiye to north-west Syria; and the relative lull in violence after the earthquake, which proves that calm can be achieved and maintained with political will.
He expressed concern, however, that this calm has punctuated with reports of concerning incidents, as seeing reports of civilian casualties from military action is even more shocking at a time of natural disaster. He therefore urgently stressed to all parties with influence that, in all earthquake-affected areas, all violence should stop immediately to enable relief and respite for the civilian population. Further, as the international community moves from emergency response to post-disaster recovery, the unresolved political challenges will pose bigger obstacles and bigger dilemmas. “It will require navigating through one of the most-complex political landscapes on the planet,” he observed, and it will require navigating that complexity in a context where the international community is itself deeply divided.
Against that backdrop, he stated that a serious political way forward will require a serious conversation among key stakeholders to make progress on unresolved political issues that could block much-needed recovery after this disaster. “This will require less posturing, less rhetoric and more pragmatism,” he said, along with realism and frankness from the Syrian Government, the Syrian opposition and all key outside actors. “It will require firewalling Syria from wider geopolitical disputes among key players,” he emphasized. The approach of seeking reciprocal and verifiable confidence-building measures – the so-called steps-for-steps paradigm – is more relevant now than ever before. Noting that the earthquakes have exposed and aggravated many of the core issues related to resolution 2254 (2015), he underlined his Office’s willingness to develop proposals and convene necessary players to help find the way forward. “This we owe all those Syrians living in a compounded nightmare, and desperate for a glimmer of hope,” he added.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, sounded alarm over the devastating scale of the earthquakes that struck Türkiye and Syria. At least 50,000 people have been killed, including 6,000 people in Syria, mostly in the north-west. Many more are injured. Tens of thousands of people remain missing. Hundreds of thousands are homeless. Further, the worst-affected area was hit again by strong aftershocks on 27 February, inflicting additional death and destruction on an already traumatized population. This immense tragedy came at an extremely difficult time for the people of Syria, compounding suffering in a country already plagued by 12 years of armed conflict. Even before this latest tragedy, 15.3 million people – 70 per cent of the country’s population – needed humanitarian assistance. Amid the harsh winter season, the earthquake has destroyed entire neighbourhoods, rendering them uninhabitable. While many Syrians have opened their homes to others, collective shelters are more overcrowded than ever. Early assessments indicate 5 million people in Syria require basic shelter and non-food assistance. In many areas, four to five families are packed into tents, with no special facilities for older people, people with chronic illnesses or those with disabilities. Hundreds of buildings are still at high risk of collapsing. Thousands more may need to be demolished, he said, adding that many are afraid to return to their homes.
Warning against the growing risk of disease – amid pre-existing cholera outbreaks – he said the prices of food and other essential items climb even higher. Women and children face increased harassment, violence and risk of exploitation, and the need for psychosocial support is great. The search-and-rescue phase of earthquake response is ending, he said, citing “heroic efforts to help victims caught beneath rubble” and adding that “the greatest heroism has been Syrians saving Syrians”. Tragically, many first responders were victims themselves, he said, noting that dozens of humanitarian workers were killed or injured during the earthquake and its aftermath. Against this background, he called for the utmost support of people on the ground.
Turning to the response of the humanitarian community, he recalled that since 9 February, the United Nations has sent more than 423 trucks into north-west Syria, carrying critical food, shelter and medical equipment for 1 million women, men and children. Many more deliveries are planned in the weeks ahead. In this context, he welcomed the Government of Syria’s agreement to open Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee border-crossing points for the United Nations to deliver humanitarian assistance to north-west Syria. Those crossing points will also facilitate a further scale-up of ongoing humanitarian operations via Bab Al-Hawa, authorized by the Security Council. In Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Lattakia, the United Nations is helping people in overcrowded collective shelters and host communities, with a particular focus on responding to gender-based violence and other protection risks. Referral systems, in-kind assistance and psychosocial support are among the measures employed to help mitigate the inherent risks. He highlighted that he released $40 million from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund to support relief operations.
Calling on all parties to facilitate unimpeded access for humanitarian relief, he cautioned that critical infrastructure is badly damaged. Against this background, he stressed the need to import machines to clear rubble, equipment for makeshift hospitals and tools to restore access to drinking water. He welcomed recent clarifications regarding humanitarian exceptions to sanctions, commitments to expedite the delivery of export licenses and the efforts to discourage private sector “overcompliance”. The Syria flash appeal calls for $397.6 million to meet the most critical needs over the next three months, he underlined, describing the upcoming donor conference in Brussels as “a pivotal moment” for the humanitarian response in both Syria and Türkiye. Meanwhile, he stressed, the 2023 Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan will require $4.8 billion to address pre-existing needs. “This is the largest humanitarian appeal worldwide, reflecting the scale and gravity of needs across Syria,” he asserted.
RASHA MUHREZ, Response Director, Save the Children, recounted the story of Maya, an 18-year-old woman from northern Syria who was sleeping at the house of her friend and cousin, Tala, on the night of the earthquake. “When the ground shook that night, and as the family screamed for each other, it took only seconds for them to be buried under the weight of their whole lives, every possession they owned,” said Ms. Muhrez, adding that following the earthquake, Maya’s father and neighbours rushed to Tala’s home. But with only their hands, they were helpless against the crumpled steel and concrete. After 10 hours under the rubble, Maya’s lungs gave out, and she suffocated. When she was finally pulled out, her body was still warm the rescue was just a few minutes too late. Maya died along with Tala, as well as her uncle and aunt. Noting that Maya would have recently turned 19, she added: “Maya and Tala were my cousins.”
Just as the neighbors tried desperately to free the two young women, using pickaxes and their bare hands, it was families, neighbours and communities across northern Syria who freed each other, she continued. Although Syrians called for help from the international community, help simply did not arrive in Syria at the scale and speed that was needed. When much of the entire world turned its back on Syrians, they stood by each other and saved what was left. At present, she said, local rescue workers are clearing the rubble, while local organizations are providing children and their families with shelter, blankets, mattresses, warm clothes and food. People are using pick-up trucks to move aid to families in need, even as those helping have lost their own homes and loved ones.
Paying tribute to Syrian communities and aid workers – who have not given up or turned to helplessness when disaster and tragedy strike again and again – she nevertheless stressed: “Resilience has its limits.” On behalf of Syria’s children, she called on the Council, the international community and parties to the conflict in Syria for a new approach and for vital support to the survivors in desperate need of help to piece their lives back together. Traumatized children who continue to have nightmares, as well as their families, will need ongoing psychosocial support to help them recover from their mental scars.
Against this backdrop, she stressed the critical need for full humanitarian access to all those affected, from all sides and through all avenues. She welcomed the agreement to open two additional border crossings and ease administrative hurdles for humanitarian aid put in place by the Government, as well as recently issued licenses aimed at easing the unintended impact of sanctions on humanitarian assistance. All measures to facilitate aid delivery must continue, and subsequently, once the issue of access is resolved, humanitarian organizations will need scaled up funding to save lives and help people recover. However, she emphasized that “we cannot be complicit in making Syria a country dependent on aid”. Syria’s future cannot be one of tents, of moving from place to place desperately searching for safety, or of poor health care, poor education and poor opportunities. “In the last 12 years, Syria has endured conflict, economic crisis and now, natural disaster,” she said, asking: “What more needs to happen to make us act differently?”
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that all Council members agreed that the earthquake had wiped out humanitarian results of past years in Syria, pointing out that Damascus immediately responded to the United Nations request by agreeing to open two additional checkpoints for the delivery of aid. Welcoming this approach, he stressed that, given the existence of General Assembly resolution 46/182 (1991), there is no need to further enshrine any measures pertaining to the humanitarian system in Council decisions. Further, noting that Syrian authorities granted humanitarian workers blanket approvals to work throughout the country, he added that the move applies to the dispatch of convoys to the north-west, which are not controlled by Damascus, thereby opening up opportunities to move humanitarian supplies along intra-Syrian routes in line with Council resolution 2672 (2023). However, he voiced puzzlement over the fact that steps had not been taken to send humanitarian supplies from Damascus, given urgent needs, and given the evidence that the militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has been seizing assistance and selling it to the local populace in the Idlib de-escalation zone. On the imposition of sanctions, he cautioned that humanitarian exemptions are not a panacea, but the bare minimum that the authorities of the United States and the European Union can and must do. Stating that Russian fertilizers are impounded in ports due to the Caesar Act, amid an impending hunger crisis, as agricultural lands are also occupied by the United States, he called on Washington, D.C., to take necessary steps to carry out humanitarian operations. He called on the United Nations to address the negative consequences of sanctions. Further, he condemned the use of force by Israel, which carried out attacks on 19 February on Damascus and surrounding areas. On the political front, he said that the Russian Federation held consultations on 27 February with the Special Envoy for Syria, in which they underscored the need for him to adhere to his mandate enshrined in Council resolution 2254 (2015). Further, he underlined the need for the Special Envoy to depoliticize the Geneva platform and to maintain regular contact with Syrians.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) supported the United Nations response to all affected by the recent earthquakes, also noting that his country will provide $185 million in humanitarian aid for the people of Türkiye and Syria. Further, he welcomed that United Nations humanitarian aid continues to move through the Bab Al-Hawa, Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee crossings, expressing hope that these essential cross-border shipments will increase as more supplies become available. Cross-border aid must continue to the Syrian people without undue interference, and he stressed that “if that requires Council action, then we must be prepared to act”. Also supporting the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ plan for cross-line aid to north-west Syria, he called on the Syrian regime and the Russian Federation to facilitate such aid to those in the Rukban camp. The international community must also remain cognizant of troubling reports of the regime’s diversion of life-saving aid and resumed shelling in north-west Syria. Instead of using the earthquake to distract from the need for reform, he called on the Syrian regime – “at long last” – to step up and genuinely participate in the political process. On suggestions by certain Council members that his country’s sanctions may be hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance, he stressed that such measures target individuals and entities that have brutalized the people of Syria for over a decade. They do not target humanitarian assistance and, further, the United States is not the cause of any reported delays in the Russian Federation’s ability to deliver fertilizer to Syria. “If Russia wants to donate fertilizer to Syria, it can do so,” he said.
PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland), speaking on behalf of the co-penholders for Syria’s humanitarian file, her country and Brazil, stressed that three weeks after the earthquake, humanitarian needs in Syria are greater than ever. Affected people in the region are surviving with unsafe housing, inadequate medical support and a high exposure to a multitude of protection risks. Among them are millions of Syrians who have been internally displaced as a result of the ongoing conflict. The need for shelter, medical supplies, fuel and broader gender-responsive protection services is high across all parts of the country. The earthquake has exacerbated already existing vulnerabilities and inequalities, she said, noting that sexual and gender-based violence risks are particularly high in the context of destruction and displacement. She commended the efforts of many countries to enable humanitarian assistance in Türkiye and Syria, stressing that the necessary conditions for unhindered aid delivery must be maintained without major security incidents. In that regard, she called on all States to increase their support.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), also speaking for Ghana and Mozambique, called on the international community to mobilize in support of the United Nations flash appeal to save lives and prevent new suffering in Syria following the earthquake. Noting that aid delivery operations are continuing smoothly and unhindered through the crossings of Bab Al-Hawa, Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee, he welcomed the Government of Syria’s decision to authorize the opening of the latter two crossings for a period of three months. This has facilitated an increase in the pace and volume of aid delivery to Syrians in need. He expressed concern, however, over continuing hostilities in the north of the country, as airstrikes, mutual bombardment and clashes persist amidst a cholera outbreak. He called on all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly by taking constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of their military operations.
Reiterating the call for an immediate ceasefire in Syria to facilitate the delivery of aid, he urged all parties to put aside their differences during this tragic national emergency. He went on to say that, since Syrian women should participate in building the future of their country, the Government should develop legislative and policy measures aimed at eliminating discrimination against women and girls in all areas of life. He also took note of the recent introduction of earthquake-related permanent exemptions to several unilateral sanctions regimes and noted that the United Nations will continue to engage bilaterally with relevant actors to identify appropriate measures to address the unintended consequences of such measures. Calling for the lifting of sanctions by all countries concerned so as not to hinder relief operations, he stressed that “this is not the time for political calculations”.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) voiced concern over the extremely dire humanitarian situation in Syria, with the earthquakes exacerbating the already existing crises in the country. The scale of needs in Syria is immeasurable, with record levels of poverty and food insecurity, a cholera outbreak and harsh winter conditions. He welcomed the agreement between President Bashar al-Assad and the United Nations to open two additional border crossings in north-west Syria for an initial period of three months. This allowed the United Nations to scale up its cross-border aid operation, where it has already sent more than 200 trucks loaded with vital assistance. In this context, he highlighted Japan’s decision to provide $27 million in emergency grant aid for earthquake damage in Syria and Türkiye. Stressing the crucial importance of a political solution to end the conflict in Syria, he said the humanitarian crisis cannot be fundamentally resolved without conflict resolution. In that vein, he urged all parties, especially the Syrian authorities, to fully engage with the good offices of the Special Envoy in order to advance a comprehensive and inclusive political process.
HERNÀN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) voiced his hope that lessons learned over the past weeks will be put to use and aid in Syria’s peaceful transition, stressing that institutions make it possible to confront natural disasters. Also emphasizing the importance of working with a spirit of cooperation and solidarity, he pointed out that the critical situation faced by Syria represents a political opportunity for sustainable solutions to the country’s conflict. He welcomed the opening of two additional border crossings, which permitted the entry of 368 trucks bearing medicine, water, food, tents and other essential items. Cross-line and cross-border deliveries complement one another, and the Council must support both mechanisms. Robustly condemning continuing attacks by armed groups in Syria – which add terror to the chaos – he noted concerning information from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which warns of the growing trend of sexual violence in community refuge centres. United Nations teams on the ground should respond in a timely fashion. Further, he echoed the Secretary-General’s urgent appeal for $397 million to meet humanitarian needs in the first three months post-earthquake, adding that the figure is certain to increase when it begins to include resettlement and reconstruction needs.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates), stressing that the international humanitarian response to Syria must be urgently intensified to reach all those affected, welcomed the Government’s decision to open two additional crossings for a period of three months. For its part, the United Arab Emirates has launched a humanitarian operation to provide relief and medical aid to Syria and Türkiye, including through the deployment of search and rescue teams and the construction of field hospitals. Additionally, he noted that his country has extended an aid package of over $200 million for both countries, along with facilitating an air bridge to Syria from the International Humanitarian City in Dubai for flights operated by the United Nations and international organizations. Welcoming United Nations support for early-recovery projects, he said that such efforts should focus on areas affected by the earthquake. He went on to point out that, as the international community was preoccupied with the disastrous effects of the earthquake, terrorist groups obstructed the cross-line delivery of aid to achieve narrow gains at the expense of the Syrian people. He therefore urged an increase in the scale and frequency of cross-line aid delivery to meet current needs.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) recalled that in response to the consequences of the earthquakes, his Government donated water purifiers and seven tons of nutritious dehydrated foods to Syria. Children all over Syria continue to endure terrible trauma when they should be spared of the consequences of the hostilities. The situation of children in camps – such as Al-Hol – is particularly concerning and deserves renewed attention, he said, welcoming the ongoing repatriation efforts. The additional human suffering caused by the earthquakes exacerbates the need for a political solution to the conflict, he said, stressing that only a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led United Nations-facilitated political process – with due regard for the country’s territorial integrity – can offer a lasting solution to the conflict. Urging for a comprehensive ceasefire, he condemned all terrorist activities and recent attacks from foreign forces, which resulted in several civilian deaths and seriously undermined the political process.
ARIAN SPASSE (Albania) said that, over the course of 12 years, the Syrian regime has disfigured the country into a “blood land” where more than two in three civilians require urgent humanitarian aid, and 12 million face hunger – the highest number since the beginning of the conflict. Against this backdrop, he expressed strong support for the continuation of the cross-border aid delivery mandate for another six months, in order to secure uninterrupted delivery to 4.1 million Syrians in the country’s north-west. He also welcomed the opening of two additional border crossings in response to an unparalleled and urgent increase in humanitarian needs. However, he stressed the need for a new Council resolution to ensure sustained and predictable humanitarian access for as long as it is needed, rather than for as long as the Syrian Government deems it suitable. The root of the unimaginable human tragedy faced by the country is political and will not be resolved without addressing that situation. Voicing strong support for the Special Envoy’s role in the full and comprehensive implementation of resolution 2254 (2015), he deplored obstructions by the Syrian regime and its supporters and called on them to allow the reconvening of the Constitutional Committee for its ninth session in Geneva, as planned.
ISIS MARIE DORIANE JARAUD-DARNAULT (France), noting that her country has mobilized to help all Syrians in every way possible for the past 12 years, reported that it has donated €12 million and 40 tons of material aid after the recent earthquakes. While underscoring that aid must be delivered to all Syrians in need, she pointed out that humanitarian operations remain complex due to the regime, which diverts a substantial portion of aid passing through Damascus and drains funds allocated to humanitarian projects. Turning to the issue of sanctions, she said such measures were adopted in response to the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the regime and its affiliates, also underscoring that European sanctions have never prevented the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria. She went on to urge those present not to forget the realities of the war in Syria amidst the human drama of the recent earthquakes, emphasizing that the regime continues to block any progress towards lasting peace. In the absence of a credible, inclusive political process, she added that her country will “not move away from its basic position with regards to the Syrian regime”.
DAI BING (China), detailing his Government’s support to Syria and Türkiye, welcomed the decision by the Syrian Government to open the Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee border-crossing points. The decision to allow more convoys to north-west Syria demonstrates a positive endeavour by the Government of Syria to relieve hardship in the wake of the earthquakes and shows a willingness to work with the United Nations. Regrettably, cross-line delivery of relief supplies to north-west Syria is still impeded, he said, calling on all parties to put the interests of Syrians first, step up communication and remove all barriers. He further noted that years of illegal unilateral sanctions have significantly exacerbated Syria’s economic and livelihood crises. To address the systematic harm on the Syrian economy and its development capacity caused by unilateral sanctions, he urged relevant countries to immediately lift those measures and stop artificially worsening humanitarian catastrophes. He also called for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process, for respect for Syria’s sovereignty and for the cessation of the illegal presence and military activities of foreign troops in the country.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) outlined steps taken by her country in the aftermath of the recent tragedy in Syria and Türkiye, including its provision of additional funding to first responders in north-west Syria and a further $30 million in emergency relief to the United Nations and humanitarian partners. She also welcomed the opening of crossings at Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee. “This latest tragedy has brought into sharp focus the importance of unhindered and predictable access, without conditions, into north-west Syria,” she said, underlining the need for the Council to continue to monitor the situation closely in light of ongoing concerns that the regime continues to divert and interfere with aid deliveries. It would be an insult to the Syrian people if the Assad regime was allowed to use the latest tragedy to avoid taking responsibility for its actions, including its criminal use of chemical weapons against the civilian population in Douma in 2018 – evidence of which the Council heard this month – and its role in fueling regional instability through the continued production and smuggling of the drug Captagon.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta) called for collective efforts to address the dual humanitarian crisis in Syria, pointing out that even before the earthquake, some 15.3 million Syrians already needed emergency humanitarian assistance. Unaccompanied and separated children are in urgent need of protection and appropriate care arrangements while family tracing and case management can take place; families need emergency psychosocial support; and women and girls deserve a gender-sensitive humanitarian response. Against this backdrop, she voiced support for humanitarian aid delivery through the most effective and direct modalities, welcoming, in this regard, the opening of the border crossings at Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee. She called for greater support for these operations and for cross-line operations to be scaled up. However, the scale and scope of cross-border operations cannot be matched by crossline deliveries, she said, underscoring the continued importance of Security Council resolution 2672 (2023). On the political front, she emphasized the need for progress to be made in line with Council resolution 2254 (2015). Voicing alarm over reports of shelling in the north-west by the Syrian Government in the aftermath of the earthquake, she reiterated Malta’s call for a nationwide ceasefire. Further, she called for the reconvening of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva and for the verifiable release of all those detained arbitrarily in Syria, as well as for information to be provided on the fate of the thousands still missing.
BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria), recalling the “brutal attack” by Da’esh, which left 53 dead and many wounded, said Israel’s consequent attack from the occupied Golan side falls within its systematic targeting of Syrian civilian objects. In this regard, he urged those Council members supporting Israel to end the crimes committed by the Israeli occupation and ensure accountability. Turning to the repercussions of the earthquake, he said the Government provided the facilities and exemptions for humanitarian aid and relief workers; granted approvals and facilities to the United Nations and other international organizations; and affirmed its commitment to deliver humanitarian aid on Syrian territory, including the north-western part of the country. The Government also opened two additional crossings for a period of three months, which enabled the passage of 368 humanitarian aid trucks, and granted approvals for delivering cross-line humanitarian aid and organizing cross-line humanitarian missions to north-western Syria for a period of six months. Lamenting low levels of funding for the humanitarian response plan, he said only 50 per cent if it was received.
Noting that the United States and the European Union would not acknowledge the extent of the negative impact of unilateral sanctions, he pointed out that restrictions imposed on the air transport sector and civil aviation equipment affected the safety of civilian passengers and caused difficulties for international relief flights to Syrian airports. Sanctions imposed on public and private hospitals, including prevention of international companies from selling medicine and medical equipment, exacerbated the vulnerability of the health sector, he stressed. Recognizing that sanctions on the import of power stations, power-related equipment and spare parts have deprived Syrians of heating and electricity for more than 20 hours per day on average, he also pointed out that restrictions placed on Syrian banks, including the Central Bank, resulted in freezing of financial relations with foreign banks and led to inability of carrying out financial transactions. In this regard, he called for complete and unconditional lifting of the unilateral coercive measures.
AMIR SAEID IRAVANI (Iran) called on the scaling up of humanitarian assistance to meet Syria’s already dire humanitarian situation, worsened by the devastating earthquake, adding that such aid must be provided in an impartial and non-discriminatory manner, free of politicization or conditionality. He called on the lifting of unilateral sanctions to address the crisis effectively, pointing out that such measures have effectively made it more difficult for Syria’s people, and have constrained the ability of the Syrian Government’s institutions to deliver basic services, stressing: “The recent exemptions for humanitarian relief are insufficient and only an attempt to create the appearance of concern.” Further, he called for an end to the ongoing plunder of Syria’s natural resources, which has led to a severe fuel shortage, citing Syrian Government figures finding that such theft has cost them losses of $100 billion. He voiced support for the full implementation of Council resolution 2672 (2023), stressing the need for relief efforts to be carried out in close cooperation and coordination with Damascus. On the political front, he stressed the need for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process, facilitated by the United Nations, pointing out that Iran is working towards normalization with its Astana format partners. He commended the efforts of the Special Envoy in facilitating the next meeting of the Constitutional Committee, adding that the current procedural impasse can be resolved through constructive engagement on the part of all parties involved. On terrorism, he called for the illegal presence of military forces in Syria to be ended. Further, he condemned Israel’s 19 February attack on a residential building in central Damascus, urging the Council to do so as well.
SEDAT ÖNAL (Türkiye) said that his country, while addressing the domestic consequences of the recent devastating earthquakes, has continued to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. The Government has repaired the roads leading to Bab Al-Hawa and has also made the border gates at Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee available to allow the faster transfer of United Nations aid in greater quantities. Further, it continues to facilitate United Nations field visits to affected areas and the delivery of humanitarian assistance by countries in the region. In addition to cross-border aid, Türkiye also continues to facilitate cross-line deliveries and, on this point, he noted that such a delivery reached the city of Ras al-Ayn on 26 February. He went on to state that the devastation wrought by the earthquake demonstrated both the interrelated nature of all components of the Syrian crisis and the concomitant need to create momentum in the political process. To achieve progress in this regard, greater alignment of the positions of all stakeholders is needed. Adding that efforts are also necessary to eliminate terrorist elements and disrupt their separatist agendas in Syria, he underscored that terrorism is the biggest threat to that country’s territorial integrity and to peace and security in the region.