Greater Cross-Border, Cross-Line Access Needed for Assistance to Syria, Emergency Relief Coordinator Tells Security Council

SC/14127
27 February 2020
8734th Meeting (AM)

Greater Cross-Border, Cross-Line Access Needed for Assistance to Syria, Emergency Relief Coordinator Tells Security Council

Aid Delivery Viable from Within Our Borders, Says Permanent Representative, as Turkey Cites Collective Duty to Stop ‘Massacre’

Greater access across borders, as well as lines of conflict is required to sustain the delivery of humanitarian assistance in north-eastern Syria, the United Nations Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator told the Security Council today, citing the Tal Abiyad crossing as the most feasible alternative to Al Yarubiyah, which was closed on 10 January.

Briefing Council members, Ursula Mueller presented four requirements for cross-line modalities to work effectively, saying they are laid out in the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2020/139), as per the Council’s request in resolution 2504 (2020).  With that resolution’s adoption in January, she noted, the Council also removed Al Ramtha and Al Yarubiyah as authorized border crossings for United Nations aid deliveries and requested that the Secretary-General recommend an alternative to the latter.

Ms. Mueller, who is also the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that, for cross-line modalities to work, the Government of Syria must provide timely approval for the importation of all necessary medical supplies.  A simplified, expedited and reliable approval process is also needed to facilitate regular over-land deliveries from Damascus into the north-east, she added.  Government approval is also needed to access all areas and facilities in the north-east to ensure that assistance is delivered impartially and without discrimination to those in need.  Finally, local authorities in the north-east must facilitate deliveries without delay, she emphasized.

Should those steps not be taken — and in the absence of consent from Syria or its neighbours for the use of border crossings — the Council would need to authorize the United Nations and its partners to use additional crossings, she said, cautioning that humanitarian needs will increase without such efforts.  The first shortages of supplies for medical facilities previously supported by cross‑border operations are expected by March, she added.

Also briefing members, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that fighting in north-western Syria has forced 900,000 people — 500,000 of them children — from their homes since December 2019.  For some, it is the sixth or seventh displacement, she said, adding that tens of thousands are living in makeshift tents, public buildings and out in the open.  Describing military strikes against camps in Idlib Governorate as both reprehensible and morally repugnant, she said UNICEF has heard reports of children freezing to death.

She went on to appeal not only for more funding and resources, but also for the Council to stand up for Syrian children with one united voice.  Regular humanitarian pauses would enable civilians safely to flee harm, she said, asking for greater access “across the board”, including road access for convoys delivering medical supplies from Damascus, or from across the border, to the north-east.

In the ensuing debate, delegates agreed that the humanitarian situation in north-western Syria also requires urgent attention due to an advance by Syria’s military.  That offensive has forced nearly 950,000 people to flee since 1 December 2019, with another 200,000 expected to soon leave.  Differences emerged, however, over the actions needed to alleviate the crisis.

Syria’s representative emphasized that the Secretary-General’s report does not refer to Tal Abiyad as the most logical cross-border option, but presents alternatives based on consultations with the Government of Syria.  In fact, Syria’s work with several parties enables it to deliver aid, psychosocial support and basic services to millions of people in areas classified as beyond Government control.  Delivery to the north-east is viable from within Syria’s borders without politicizing aid or allowing Turkey to use the crossings mentioned in resolution 2504 (2020) as entry points for its troops, he added.

Turkey’s representative, however, accused the regime of President Bashar al‑Assad of leaving civilians in Idlib with two options:  either stay in the area and hope to survive, or flee in harsh winter conditions.  “We have a collective responsibility to stop this massacre,” he said, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities.  Turkey will work with the United Nations to prepare the Tal Abiyad crossing for humanitarian operations, he pledged.

Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister for Finance and Development, Alexander De Croo, said the Council must consider using the Tal Abyah crossing because confrontation between Turkey on the one hand, and Syria and the Russian Federation on the other, could lead to dangerous and unpredictable consequences.  “The Syrian authorities’ track record on humanitarian access leaves much room to question,” he added, emphasizing that partial or conditional aid delivery is unacceptable.

The representative of the United States echoed that sentiment, stressing that the Council cannot depend on Syria to deliver cross-line assistance.  Tal Abiyad — the border crossing recommended by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and supported by the United States months ago — is the most feasible alternative, she said.

France’s representative said the Idlib offensive leaves no doubt that Syria, supported by the Russian Federation and others, intends to regain control of the country by force and without negotiating.  France and its European partners will neither help to finance Syria’s reconstruction nor lift sanctions until there is a firm and irreversible commitment to a political settlement, he said.

The Russian Federation’s representative emphasized that the final and irreversible expulsion of all terrorists is the only long-term solution for Idlib and for Syria as a whole.  “Please don’t tell us we are exacerbating the situation,” he added, noting that Syria has increased the number of humanitarian approvals it issues to 600 a month.  Some 95 per cent of them were blanket approvals that provided humanitarian agencies with flexibility.  While acknowledging the problems mentioned in the Secretary-General’s reports, he requested that Council members not “paint everything in black and white”.

Tunisia’s representative underlined the critical importance of the United Nations role, saying the Organization’s efforts could be more effective if the Council was united.  Any ceasefire initiative will be temporary without practical solutions that ensure the eradication of Council-designated terrorist organizations from the region, he said.  Concerning cross-border humanitarian deliveries, he called for an incremental approach that respects Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, with the Government playing a coordinating role.  He suggested that the Council examine the Government’s proposals for alternative ways to deliver humanitarian assistance by land, sea and air.

Also speaking today were representatives of Germany, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominican Republic, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Niger, South Africa, Estonia, China and the United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:40 p.m.

Briefings

URSULA MUELLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, recalled her conversation with 14 women in Idlib and northern Aleppo — humanitarian workers displaced from other parts of Syria, some multiple times — saying they all described events in the north-west as “beyond imagination”.  It is not humanely tolerable, they said, describing children so traumatized they no longer speak, and pregnant women asking for caesarean deliveries for fear of going into labour while on the move without medical care.  The latest data indicate that nearly 950,000 people have fled advancing front lines in the north-west since 1 December 2019, she reported, saying most are moving into north-western Idlib Governorate, a small area along the border with Turkey that already hosts hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Reiterating the Secretary-General’s recent statement that international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians have been systematically ignored, she warned that the fighting is advancing into areas with the highest concentrations of people.  Yet, in the last 10 days, a camp hosting some 800 people was shelled in Dana, she said, adding that Idlib Central Hospital was among several facilities struck this week, resulting in multiple casualties.  A massive humanitarian operation is under way in the north-west, and in January, food assistance for 1.4 million people was delivered through the cross-border mechanism, as were health supplies for nearly 500,000 people and non-food items for more than 230,000.  That was more aid delivered than in any other month since the cross‑border operation was authorized in 2014, she noted.  “The cross-border modality is absolutely essential to our response in the north-west,” she said, explaining that Idlib residents in need cannot currently be reached by any other means.

In north-eastern Syria, where civilians remain extremely vulnerable, renewed hostilities in and around Tal Tamer District have displaced an additional 1,600 civilians to Qamishli, she said, adding that another 800 people have arrived in Ar-Raqqa.  An estimated 1.9 million across the north-east require assistance, most in areas outside Government control.  In the second half of 2019, the United Nations and its partners scaled up the response in the north-east, reaching hundreds of thousands of people with supplies from within Syria through the Al Yarubiyah crossing point of the cross-border modality.  Until 10 January, the United Nations provided cros‑border assistance into the north-east through that crossing, she said, recalling that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had briefed the Council on the importance of renewing its authorization of that crossing point.

However, with its adoption of resolution 2504 (2020) and removal of Al Ramtha and Al Yarubiyah as authorized crossings, she said, the Council requested that the Secretary-General report on the feasibility of using alternatives to Al Yarubiyah.  His report concludes that, in order to meet all humanitarian needs, the Government of Syria would need to facilitate greater cross-border access to the north-east and consent to cross-border delivery through safe and feasible crossings.  Should Damascus not take the required steps to enable aid delivery — and in the absence of consent from Syria and its neighbours on the use of border crossings into the north-east — the Council would need to authorize the United Nations and its partners to use other crossings, she said, citing the report.  Of the alternatives, the Tal Abiyad crossing is deemed the most feasible option, she added.

Outlining the four requirements for the cross-line modality to work effectively, she said the first is timely Government authorization to import all necessary medical supplies.  Secondly, a simplified, expedited and reliable process of Government approval is needed to enable regular deliveries from Damascus by land into the north-east.  Approval to access all areas and facilities in the north-east is required to ensure aid reaches all people, without discrimination, she said, adding that there is also need for local authorities in the north-east to facilitate delivery to all locations without delay.  She said that, on 26 February, in response to requests, the United Nations received general approval from the Government to transfer medical assistance by land to all parts of Syria.

Warning that humanitarian needs will increase unless alternatives to Al Yarubiyah are found, she said the first shortages to affect medical facilities providing reproductive health care — previously supported by cross-border operations — are expected by March.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is engaging with Syria to bring a shipment of essential medical items, currently in Iraq, into Syria by air.  She concluded by reporting that nearly half the population of the Rukban camp, 19,400 people, have left and there are indications that thousands more still wish to leave.  Planning to support informed and voluntary departures is ongoing, she said calling upon all sides to facilitate those efforts.  “Humanitarian needs across the country remain immense and are worsening,” she stressed, pointing out that the number of food-insecure people rose by 1.3 million in 2019, to reach 7.9 million in 2020.

HENRIETTA FORE, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), noted that, just two months into 2020, the situation in Syria is deteriorating by the day, with the escalation of fighting in the north-west since December 2019 pushing more than 900,000 people — including more than 500,000 children — from their homes and into danger.  For some, it is the sixth or seventh displacement, she said, adding that tens of thousands are living in makeshift tents, public buildings and out in the open.  Describing recent military strikes against camps in Idlib as “both reprehensible and morally repugnant”, she said UNICEF has heard reports of children freezing to death.  Landmines and improvised explosive devices dot the landscape and hospitals continue to be targeted.

Across Syria, the nine-year-old war has decimated public services, she reported, noting that more than half of all health facilities and 3 out of 10 schools are non-functional, she continued.  With the economy in freefall, some 11 million people across the country — half of them children — still need urgent humanitarian assistance, she said, adding that 6.5 million Syrians go hungry every day due to food insecurity.  She put the verified number of children killed in fighting during 2018 at more than 1,100 — the highest in a single year since the war began — with another 900 killed and hundreds maimed in 2019.  The true number, however, is much higher, she emphasized.

UNICEF, its sister United Nations agencies and their partners are doing all they can, “but the needs are overwhelming and rapidly outpacing our resources”, she continued, announcing that she will travel to Syria and the wider region this weekend to determine what more must be done.  UNICEF appeals not only for more funding and resources, but also for the Council and its members to stand up for Syria’s children and to speak with one united voice, she stressed, urging all sides across the country to protect children and essential civilian infrastructure and end hostilities in the north-west.  Regular humanitarian pauses would enable civilians to get safely out of harm’s way and allow aid workers to reach those in need.

She went on to call for greater humanitarian access “across the board”, including road access for humanitarian convoys delivering medical supplies from Damascus or across the border into north-eastern Syria.  She also urged all Member States to honour their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to repatriate children in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner.  For its part, the Council must lend its support and influence to a negotiated political solution that would end the war once and for all, she said, stressing:  “The longer this war continues, the more children are going to die on the world’s watch.”  The international community cannot afford to greet another year with the same carnage, the same flouting of international humanitarian law and the same inhumanity in which 2020 began.

Statements

ALEXANDER DE CROO, Deputy Prime Minister for Finance and Development of Belgium and Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity and on behalf of Germany, describing the statistics outlined by the briefers as yet another reminder that the humanitarian situation in Syria has remained at the top of the United Nations agenda for nine years “and that this Council needs to act”.  More than ever before, the situation in Idlib requires concerted action because conditions remain extremely dire and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs foresees that another 200,000 people may flee the area shortly.  “If they decide to stay behind, they may be hit by blind bombardments,” he said, while noting that leaving will force them to join those who have already sought refuge in over-packed camps, unfinished housing and even under the open sky in freezing temperatures.  The situation goes to the very heart of international humanitarian law, he emphasized, reiterating calls for an immediate ceasefire.  He recalled with regret that the authorization of cross-border delivery of aid through the Al Yarubiyah crossing could not be extended alongside that of two other crossings, and pledged to consult with all Council members on the best way to move forward with the alternative modalities outlined by the Secretary-General.

Speaking in his national capacity, he called upon all sides in Idlib to demonstrate maximum restraint and agree to an immediate and sustainable ceasefire, warning that the direct confrontation between Turkey on the one hand, and Syria and the Russian Federation on the other, constitutes a dangerous escalation that could lead to unpredictable consequences.  Reiterating Belgium’s unequivocal condemnation of attacks perpetrated by terrorist groups, he stressed that anti‑terrorism efforts must never be a pretext for exempting the parties from their obligations under international humanitarian law.  The Secretary-General’s new report on possible alternate modalities to replace aid delivery through the Al Yarubiyah crossing point reveals that the gap will be hard to fill, he noted.  “The Syrian authorities’ track record on humanitarian access leaves much room to question.”  Stressing that partial or conditional implementation of aid delivery is unacceptable, he said Council members must consider using the Tal Abyah crossing identified by the Secretary‑General as the most feasible alternative to Al Yarubiyah.

HEIKO MAAS, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, noted that many children in Syria have never experienced peace and never attended school.  Calling upon Syria’s Government and the Russian Federation to stop ignoring the facts, he said that, as parties to the conflict, they have an obligation to protect civilians, yet they are bombing hospitals and schools.  “Let me be clear:  conducting counter-terrorism measures does not absolve anyone from respecting international humanitarian law,” he reiterated.  “Indiscriminate attacks against civilians are war crimes.  And those responsible must be held accountable.”  The Council must ensure full humanitarian access and explore every possibility to meet all needs, he emphasized, noting that his country has increased its assistance by €25 million to provide shelter.  A humanitarian ceasefire is also essential, he said, adding that, alongside France, Germany is ready to continue working with the Russian Federation and Turkey at the highest level to secure a ceasefire.  He went on to state that a regime which has been killing its own people cannot bring peace to Syria, stressing that reconciliation without accountability for the crimes committed will not work.  A political solution overseen by the United Nations, in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015), is the only way to resolve the conflict.

KELLY CRAFT (United States) emphasized the need to focus on establishing a durable, verifiable ceasefire, brokered by the United Nations.  The Russian Federation must ground its planes and tell the Syrian regime to pull back its forces.  According to The New York Times and The Washington Post, Syrian children are being killed in regime attacks against schools.  Questioning the source of the Council’s disagreement, she wondered whether all Council members object to “handing out death sentences” to innocent Syrians while the Russian Federation and China do not.  As the Assad regime pursues military operations, with support from the Russian Federation and Iran, humanitarian operations are more important than ever, she said, stressing that with the closure of Al Yarubiyah, it is crucial that the remaining two crossings continue to operate through July.  Cautioning that 1.9 million civilians will lack medical supplies unless the Council takes action, she said it is essential that UNICEF be allowed to provide aid to young Syrians who are starving, freezing, sick and displaced.  “We cannot depend on the Assad regime to deliver any cross-line assistance,” she said, describing Tal Abiyad — the crossing that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recommended and the United States supported months ago — as the most feasible alternate, she said the crisis was imposed on Syrians by two Council members.  The now-closed Al Yarubiyah crossing was functional, did not need an alternate and remains the best way to ensure cross-border aid reaches Syria, she said.  Having killed hundreds of thousands of people, the regime cannot be expected to consent to cross-line aid, she added, emphasizing that the Council must be prepared to renew cross-border operations.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said the absolute priority must be an immediate cessation of hostilities, adding that air strikes by the regime and its allies, particularly the Russian Federation, are crimes that cannot go unpunished.  France knows there are terrorists in Idlib, but the struggle against terrorism cannot justify violations of international humanitarian law, he emphasized.  Calling upon the Russian Federation to continue de-escalation negotiations with Turkey, he said the Astana format has proven incapable of ending the humanitarian crisis.  The Council bears responsibility to mobilize collectively to silence the guns, he said, stressing that all parties, especially the regime, must guarantee safe and unimpeded humanitarian access.  He went on to say that the Idlib offensive leaves no doubt that the Syrian regime, supported by the Russian Federation and others, intends to regain control of the country by force and without negotiating anything.  However, only a political solution will facilitate the return of 6 million Syrian refugees to their country, he said, underlining that France and its European partners will not help to finance Syria’s reconstruction or lift sanctions until there is a firm and irreversible commitment to a political settlement.

DIANI JIMESHA PRINCE (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) noted that the Tal Abiyad border crossing has been designated as the most feasible alternative to Al Yarubiyah, saying “it is our hope that this crossing will indeed be utilized”.  While counter-terrorism operations must protect Syria’s people and sovereignty, military operations should never be placed above the well-being of citizens, she said, emphasizing that the protection of civilians and their infrastructure is paramount.  She encouraged the international community to foster Syria’s reconstruction, without which displaced persons will be forced to remain in overcrowded camps and bombed-out buildings.  She also appealed to countries that have imposed unilateral sanctions on Syria to engage in dialogue with that country’s Government.

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) said that an immediate ceasefire, and end to the bloodshed, and compelling all sides to exercise self-restraint must remain the priority.  All parties must fulfil their commitments under international law and international humanitarian law by protecting civilians and ensuring the safe and unimpeded delivery of aid.  It is of critical importance that the United Nations play its role, he said, emphasizing that the Organization’s efforts can be more effective if the Council is united.  Any ceasefire initiative will be temporary without practical solutions that ensure the eradication of Council-designated terrorist organizations from the region, he stressed.  As for cross-border humanitarian deliveries in the north-east, he called for an incremental approach that respects Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, with the Government playing a coordinating role.  Moreover, dialogue and cooperation between the United Nations and the Government must be enhanced to ensure an effective humanitarian response.  He went on to suggest that the Council examine the Government’s proposals for alternative ways to deliver humanitarian assistance by land, sea and air.

BERIOSKA ILUMINADA MORRISON GONZÁLEZ (Dominican Republic) said the distressful situation described by the briefers reflects the international community’s inability to stop the violence in north-western Syria.  The only solution is political negotiations that look forward to a future of peace, reconciliation and respect for the fundamental rights of all Syrians, she emphasized.  Attacks against civilians, hospitals, schools and camps for the internally displaced are unacceptable and grave violations of international humanitarian law that must stop.  Expressing appreciation for the efforts of both international and Syrian humanitarian organizations, she urged full funding of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria.  She went on to underline that any decision on cross-border access must focus exclusively on responding to current levels of need while also adhering strictly to humanitarian principles.  She also called for progress on the release of arbitrarily detained persons and for credible information about missing persons, to be shared with their families.

DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), noting that health care, education and commerce have been heavily affected or are near total collapse, emphasized that all concerned parties must comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, including by ensuring that civilians are protected and that aid is delivered on a priority basis.  The Secretary-General’s report on possible alternative modalities for delivering aid that formerly entered Syria through the Al Yarubiyah crossing will serve as an important tool for the Council’s evaluation of the situation, he said, strongly urging the concerned parties and the United Nations to make concerted efforts to identify the most feasible and effective ways to reach those in need.

MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia), urging the parties to cease hostilities immediately, condemned targeted attacks against civilian infrastructure and camps for the internally displaced.  They must all take the steps necessary to protect civilians and ensure respect for international humanitarian law.  Noting that the cross-border operation remains key to providing life-saving assistance to people in need, he emphasized the need to address growing demand in the north-west immediately.  A combination of greater cross-border and cross-line access is needed to maintain aid in the north-east, he said, underscoring the importance for Syria of facilitating more cross-line access to that area, especially for medical distribution.

ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) condemned recent attacks against schools and hospitals, pointing out that civilians continually suffer the cost of confrontation between combatant forces.  Indeed, the distribution of aid has been gravely imperilled, he said.  The situation in Idlib, meanwhile, should foster an outpouring of solidarity and commitment, he said, pressing the Council to do its utmost to stop the military escalation while calling upon the parties to reach ceasefire as soon as possible.

HARSHANA GOOLAB (South Africa) joined others in expressing grave concern over attacks against civilian infrastructure and services in north-eastern Syria, calling upon all parties to adhere to their obligations under international law and to seek a non-military resolution to the conflict.  Such an agreement would require a cessation of hostilities that upholds Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, she said, emphasizing that external support for armed groups and United Nations-designated terrorist groups must end immediately.  “External role players should not be allowed to use the conflict in Syria as a proxy for their own interests.”  In view of the potential for direct military escalation between Syria and Turkey, South Africa hopes that forums like the Astana process and bilateral engagements will reduce tensions, she said.  On humanitarian assistance, she stressed the vital importance of safe, unimpeded and impartial aid delivery, and cited the Syrian Government’s recent authorization of an overland World Health Organization (WHO) convoy as a positive step forward.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) pointed out that, while the Syrian delegation describes the conflict as a fight against terrorism, “actually, they are turning the cradle of civilization into a graveyard”.  Ordinary people continue to suffer as the Syrian army, assisted by forces of the Russian Federation, targets schools in Idlib, he noted.  Expressing concern about the escalating military conflict pitting Turkey against Syrian and Russian forces operating in the area, he also sounded the alarm over the Syrian army’s attacks that threaten to derail Turkey’s important efforts to de-escalate the situation and provide shelter for more than 3 million refugees.  On 26 February, 14 European Union foreign ministers expressed their deep concern over the situation, he recalled.  Echoing calls for the Syrian regime and its allies to end their offensive and resume the 2018 ceasefire, he said the Astana format has failed, adding:  “That means we must consider a stronger Security Council role for Syria once again.”  Turning briefly to proposed alternatives to the Al Yarubiyah crossing, he said that, in any scenario, Syria must ease bureaucracy for aid organizations and grant unimpeded humanitarian access — requirements that, regrettably, have been neglected thus far.

WU HAITAO (China) said that, in addition to stepping up the delivery of humanitarian aid, the international community should help to stabilize Syria’s economy.  Rooting out terrorist forces is a prerequisite for ending the conflict and the international community should cooperate in bringing terrorists to justice, he added.  Emphasizing that the Government of Syria bears primary responsibility for improving the humanitarian situation, he said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and others should therefore strengthen their cooperation and coordination with the Government while respecting Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  As for the cross-border aid-delivery mechanism, he said it should be adjusted in accordance with conditions on the ground.  He went on to reject accusations by the representative of the United States, emphasizing that China has no selfish interest and resolutely supports Syria’s legitimate Government.  All countries are free to voice their opinions, he said, while underlining that China opposes use of the Council as a platform for levelling wanton accusations against others.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the Council meets “perhaps too regularly” to discuss the situation in Syria, suggesting that many of its members could write each other’s statements.  The focus today, however, should be on the Secretary-General’s report, he said.  Referring to Idlib, he said Turkey is not putting up obstacles to humanitarian deliveries to that governorate, where humanitarian workers have plenty of resources.  He clarified that among internally displaced persons are those who have died from heaters setting fires to tents, but not from freezing.  Humanitarian workers and those who supply such heaters should avoid similar incidents in the future, he said.  Emphasizing that final and irreversible expulsion of all terrorists is the only long-term solution for Idlib and Syria as a whole, he is said:  “Please don’t tell us we are exacerbating the situation.”  On the ratio of peaceful citizens to terrorist fighters, he said that even if the latter are not as many of the former, they remain capable of carrying out atrocities.

Responding to claims that Damascus is not cooperating on humanitarian issues, he said the Government has increased to 600 per month the number of approvals for humanitarian operations.  Ninety-five per cent are blanket approvals, giving flexibility to humanitarian agencies, he added, while acknowledging that there are problems that are mentioned in the Secretary-General’s reports.  He went on to request that Council members not paint everything as black and white, not ignore the other side of the coin and not rush to bury the Astana format.  While there is no United Nations presence in Idlib, reports of attacks against schools and hospitals can be confirmed with just two telephone calls, he said, recalling that the representative of the United States mentioned attacks against camps for internally displaced.  There has been only one such case and it involved artillery shells, he clarified.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said the intensity and pace of the Syrian and Russian campaign in Idlib means that civilians are unable to flee and children are literally freezing to death.  “We should be under no delusion that this is the worst human situation thus far in this terrible conflict,” he added.  All military forces on the ground, and especially their commanders, should know that following political orders is no defence for war crimes and that “accountability will come”.  Turning to the situation in north-eastern Syria, he expressed grave concern that stocks of medical supplies could be depleted soon, affecting reproductive health in particular.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs should regularly provide the Council with data to show that Syria is making good on its pledges, he proposed.  It is in the hands of Syria and the Russian Federation to take or save lives, he said, adding that the humane thing to do is to stop the fighting and let humanitarians do their work.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said Turkish occupation authorities recently cut the water supply from the Allouk station to Hasakah in north-eastern Syria, which is home to 600,000 people.  That crime is similar to those committed by terrorists in Damascus, supported by Turkey and Qatar, in 2012, he recalled.  He went on to reject efforts to turn the Council into a platform for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and for supporting Turkey’s aggression.  Describing the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator as a “propagandist of misleading charades”, he said the latter violates his mandate and takes advantage of the self-imposed isolation of some who shut their embassies in Damascus.  In contrast, the analysis offered by the representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is correct, he said, inviting Council members to “take a page from her book”.

Taking issue with the Secretary-General’s 19 February statement to the Council, in which he neglected to mention two Syrian staff members working for OXFAM who were martyred in Dera’a by terrorist groups which the Emergency Relief Coordinator depicted as non-State actors and others call jihadists.  The Syrian Arab Army and its allies defeated terrorists and their paymasters in Idlib, allowing people in Aleppo to celebrate freedom, he said.  “The work of Syria and its allies to fight terrorism in Idlib is a constitutional task,” he added, noting that it is also intended to uphold Council resolutions.

Calling over Syrian citizens to return to liberated areas in the north-west, he urged those with leverage over the Turkish regime and affiliated terrorists to return the 1 million Syrians displaced due to Turkey’s aggression, stressing that the United Nations must provide them with assistance, rather than presenting briefings that do not honestly reflect the situation.  On 29 January, he recalled, Syria authorized WHO to deliver aid from Iraq through the Al-Bukamal crossing.  The Government also sent a letter on 2 February, demonstrating its willingness to cooperate with Iraq on that issue and granted one-time permission for the aid consignment to pass through Irbil airport.  Yet, today’s briefers failed to mention that information, he said, pointing out that, instead, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator mentioned Al Yarubiyah 11 times.

He went on to clarify that the Secretary-General’s report does not say Tal Abiyad is the most logical option.  Rather, it presents alternatives based on consultations with Syria’s Government.  In fact, Syria’s work with myriad parties allows it to deliver aid, psychosocial support and basic services to millions of people in areas classified as beyond Government control, he noted.  Delivery to the north-east is viable from within Syria’s borders, without the need to politicize aid or use the crossings mentioned in resolution 2504 (2020) and instrumentalized by the Erdoğan regime as entry points for Turkey’s troops.

Syria has given approval for aid to be carried through contact lines on its own territory, provided that it does not fall into the hands of terrorists, illegal armed groups or proxy militias, he stressed.  The Government informed the United Nations resident coordinator in northern Syria that it would transfer medical aid over land and had liberated the highway between Damascus and Aleppo — a milestone achievement.  Those who paint a different picture, calling for a ceasefire and negotiations with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), are either ignorant or directly supporting terrorism, he said, demanding to know why the United States never negotiated with Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) said the Assad regime and its supporters have a strategy that leaves civilians in Idlib with two options — either stay in the area and hope they can survive or leave their homes and run for their lives amid harsh winter conditions.  Such a strategy has been used to perfection by similar totalitarian regimes, he said, asking what the international response should be.  “We are faced with serious crimes against humanity and we have a collective responsibility to stop this massacre,” he said, emphasizing that Turkey will not stand idly by.  Pointing out that his country hosts 4 million Syrian refugees and provides care for another 5 million inside their own country, he pledged that Turkey will continue to help its Syrian sisters and brothers, today and tomorrow, and will not let them down.  Calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities, he said Turkey is pressing the Russian Federation for full implementation of the Sochi Memorandum and to ensure that the Syrian regime complies with existing frameworks.

He went on to describe attacks by the Syrian regime against Turkish forces as a turning point, while stressing that his country will neither withdraw its forces nor abandon its observation posts.  “It should be clear by now [that] any military aggression targeting Turkey’s security and Turkish soldiers will be severely punished.”  On the humanitarian situation, he said shelter remains the most pressing need in north-western Syria and the international community must step up its contributions to the Secretary-General’s appeal for an additional $500 million.  Meanwhile, Turkey will take all necessary measures, in cooperation with the United Nations, to prepare the Tal Abyad border crossing for humanitarian operations.  Warning that prospects for peace in Syria will vanish if de‑escalation in Idlib cannot hold, he said Syria can still be a democratic, secular and stable country with secure borders and a strong economy, but its people need the Council to play its role in order to ensure peace and security.  He concluded by rejecting the comments that Syria’s representative made about his country.

Mr. JA’AFARI (Syria), taking the floor a second time, noted that Turkey’s representative has once again arrogantly threatened his country.  Emphasizing that his country has no disagreement with the Turkish people, but only with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party, he said the latter sponsors terrorists inside Syria.  He went on to describe his country as the victim of an unprecedented terrorist project targeting its legitimate Government.  That Government has no problem with an unarmed civilian opposition, but it has a responsibility to fight terrorists sponsored by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others, he said.

For information media. Not an official record.