Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC briefing on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria
We thank SRSG Pedersen and OCHA Director Doughten for the briefings on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria.
We still see no alternative to the Syrian-owned and Syrian-led peace process under UN assistance and fully compliant with UNSC resolution 2254. In this context, we support mediator efforts of SRSG Pedersen for promotion of the settlement given respect for the principles of sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and without any external interference. This being said, we think it is essential for the Special Representative to abide strictly by his mandate that the Security Council entrusted to him and that has support for the inter-Syrian dialogue at its core. The optimal format of such direct inter-Syrian dialogue is the Constitutional Committee. We are convinced that all difficulties that are associated with its work can be overcome if there is enough will and commitment to take on board interests of all Syrian sides. Unresolved technical aspects related to recovery of regular work of the Committee’s Editorial Board must not serve to justify idleness of whatever stakeholder. We proceed from the understanding that principle-based decisions regarding modalities of further rounds of inter-Syrian consultations must be made by the Syrians themselves.
Against this backdrop, the situation on the ground remains tense. There is still a threat of a military operation in the north of the country. Illegal foreign military presence of the United States and its allies in cross-Euphrates area and around Al-Tanf continues. “Smoldering hotbeds” of terrorism, primarily in Idlib, are particularly worrisome.
We are concerned over the intensification of Israel’s air strikes against the territory of Syria. More than 10 such attacks have taken place since the beginning of this year. Aleppo international airport, which is the gateway for humanitarian assistance that comes in for the victims of the February earthquake, was put out of action twice. Such forceful acts that violate the sovereignty of Syria and neighboring Arab states, as well as the lack of reaction to this on the part of the UN leadership cause our deep concern and strong condemnation.
Among positive aspects, we note that the process of Syria’s return to the Arab family has expedited. With our support, the normalization between Damascus and Ankara continues using the benefits of the Astana format. Together with other partners in the format, Iran and Türkiye, we intend to contribute further to achieving a lasting normalization in the Syrian Arab Republic.
To the humanitarian situation. It remains, as we just heard, very complicated and continues to deteriorate. Aftereffects of the earthquake in the Syrian-Turkish border area have not been overcome yet. We must state that the needs and problems of ordinary Syrians that but grow in such circumstances do not prevent Western donors from politicizing the issues of assistance and from using aid as an instrument to exert pressure on Damascus, undermine sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. As of now, Western and UN assistance only reaches areas that are out of control by Damascus. Despite all their tricks, Western states fail to conceal this. Statistics is self-explanatory. The emergency OCHA call related to the earthquake has been financed by 97 %, whereas the traditional humanitarian response plan for Syria, which includes assistance to the governmental areas only by 8%. In the meantime the United States that is robbing Syria of its resources, as well as its European partners, miss no opportunity to repeat that they will not “give a dime” for Syria’s post-conflict recovery, lift sanctions, or ease the isolation of Damascus unless a political transition has been launched.
At the same time, West-sponsored militants from HTS thwart openly cross-line convoys to Idlib, demanding a ransom for passage. By doing this, they challenge the entire international community and this Council. We cannot put up with the fact that contrary to Security Council’s consensus decisions, starting from August 2021 only 10 convoys have been dispatched to the de-escalation zone (the last and the only one this year was on 8 January). Apart from that, there were three restricted missions to Tell Abyad. It seems that the permission for the UN to use two extra border crossings (Bab al-Salam and Al-Rai) that Damascus granted for three months in addition to the permit for Bab al-Hawa, the mandate of which will expire on 10 July, reduced to zero all UN’s enthusiasm for boosting cross-line deliveries.
We underscore that if our Western colleagues on the Council continue pretending that nothing is happening and ignore the fact that internationally listed terrorists subvert decisions of the Security Council, we will draw our conclusions from this situation in view of the renewal of the cross-border mechanism that is pending in July. The CBM has long exhausted its potential and now serves other than humanitarian goals. The tragic events of February 2023 clearly demonstrated this. Besides, we see that problems caused by the negative impact of Western sanctions on the international humanitarian response in Syria, are exacerbating. We continue to call on the United Nations to not remain silent about this, stop downplaying this aspect and give it an adequate assessment. At the IID yesterday, we were provided with many examples how sanctions may affect ordinary people’s lives. That is why all claims by the US and its allies about a targeted nature of sanctions and allegedly effective exemptions will sound particularly hypocritical today.
Colleagues, taking into account the trends and facts that we shared today, there are no doubts left that we are approaching the “moment of truth” in terms of humanitarian assistance for Syria. The double-dealing of our Western colleagues and their attempts to use humanitarian levers as a pressure tool on Damascus have become far too obvious for UN leadership to keep ignoring it. It is time to call a spade a spade. Without fair assessments and a genuine willingness of all UNSC members to help, it will hardly make any sense struggling to preserve the Council’s relevant parameters of rendering humanitarian aid to Syria. The choice is our Western colleagues’ to make.