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SC/14839
24 March 2022
9003rd Meeting (AM)

As War in Syria Enters Eleventh Year, Special Envoy, Briefing Security Council, Calls for Faster Humanitarian Funding, Consensus on Cross-Border Aid Delivery

The committee tasked with drafting a new Syrian constitution resumed its difficult deliberations this week, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy told the Security Council today, calling for urgent compromise to pave a peaceful path forward as the country marks 11 years of gruesome conflict.

Geir O. Pedersen, Special Envoy for Syria, said he was briefing the 15‑member Council on the penultimate day of the seventh session of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.  Recalling that the conflict marked the grim milestone of 11 years of conflict this month, he appealed to the members of that Committee to “work this week with the sense of seriousness and spirit of compromise that the situation demands”.

Noting that deliberations have not been easy, he said the members are expected to submit revisions to reflect the content of those discussions, which will begin to be considered on 25 March.  While significant differences exist between the parties’ positions, he said it remains possible to find and build on common points, if the will exists to do so.  Serious attempts should be made by all delegations to begin to narrow differences, he said, calling for efforts that explore compromise as a way to build public trust and confidence in the process — “something sorely lacking among the Syrians at present”.

Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, noting that March marks 11 years of war in Syria, said such devastation “finds few parallels” in recent history.  More than 350,000 people have been killed, nearly 14 million have been displaced and basic services are destroyed.  Meanwhile, civilians continue to be killed and injured along front-line areas in the country’s north-west and north-east.  Stressing that some 14.6 million people require humanitarian aid — more than at any time since the start of the conflict — he added that the war in Ukraine is causing global food and energy prices to spike at a time when 12 million Syrians are considered food insecure.

Calling for accelerated humanitarian funding, as well as full access to those in need “wherever they are” in Syria, he pressed the Council to maintain its consensus on the upcoming renewal of the cross-border aid delivery authorization which allows assistance to flow into Syria from across the Turkish border.  Meanwhile, his office continues to work with all parties to reinvigorate cross‑line aid to the country’s north-west — meaning, aid sent from within Syria.  “Now, more than ever, we need action to show the people of Syria that they are not forgotten,” he said.

Also briefing the Council was Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary General of the League of Arab States, who noted that Syrians will not be immune from the global impact of the worsening conflict in Ukraine.  Citing the impact of the Syrian crisis on the broader region — especially countries hosting many refugees, such as Lebanon and Jordan — he stressed that support for internally displaced persons and refugees is a shared responsibility for all the world’s nations.  Against that backdrop, the League’s Council of Foreign Ministers recently expressed its concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation and rising violence in Syria, while urging international donors to disburse their pledges to the country in line with previous commitments.

As Council members took the floor, many expressed support for the Constitutional Committee’s work but remained divided on its trajectory.  Some speakers underscored the urgency of completing the process in a timely manner, while others warned against imposing artificial deadlines.  Meanwhile, delegates remained sharply divided over the necessity of Syria’s cross-border aid‑delivery mechanism, with several speakers stressing that it should be phased out in favour of cross-line assistance sent from within the Syrian territory.

The representative of the United States, noting that some in the Council wish to “move on” from the Syrian conflict, emphasized that the conflict is not over and to stop addressing it regularly would be a mistake.  He praised the work of the Constitutional Committee and urged it to engage in good faith.  On the humanitarian front, he said relying solely on cross-line aid deliveries from within Syria and eliminating the cross-border mechanism, as some parties wish to do, would be a “risky endeavour” given the former’s insufficient capacity and the Assad regime’s history of attacking civilians.

Striking a similar tone, Albania’s representative said the Assad regime has “disfigured Syria into a dystopian wasteland of endless suffering and cruelty”.  Calling for the full implementation of resolution 2254 (2015) — which must be the Council’s “absolute priority” — she said the Constitutional Committee has mainly produced disappointment due to the lack of engagement by the Assad regime.  Absent constant pressure from the Security Council, and any deadlines, she warned that it risks becoming a smokescreen for further inaction.

The representative of Kenya, who also spoke on behalf of Gabon and Ghana, said Syrian people require international support as they struggle to regain their footing under the most difficult of circumstances.  Advocating for innovative solutions, he stressed that all political initiatives should be inclusive and consider the voices of the widest spectrum of the Syrian society — including women, youth, minority groups and civil society.  He also advocated for maintaining the cross-border aid mechanism, complemented by cross-line aid, while urging all actors to support economic recovery measures as a component of the longer-term peace needed in Syria.

China’s delegate, echoing calls for the Committee’s members to make good use of their current opportunity, rejected the ongoing imposition of devastating unilateral coercive sanctions in Syria and called for their lifting.  Voicing his country’s opposition to the imposition of any political conditions on international reconstruction efforts, he said more efforts are needed to increase the frequency of cross-line aid deliveries and to ensure that Syria’s oil revenues are not plundered by foreign actors.

The representative of Syria, meanwhile, said this month marks not only the eleventh anniversary of his country’s war, but also of the aggression committed against it by several foreign States via terrorist proxies.  Those countries claim “concern” about Syria and frequently issue calls to “stop the violence”, despite being the ones who are fuelling it.  Also decrying their imposition of sanctions and obstruction of recovery projects — which could help build a safer and more resilient Syria — he warned against any foreign interference in the work of the Constitutional Committee or attempts to impose predetermined outcomes or artificial timelines.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Norway, Russian Federation, France, United Kingdom, Mexico, Ireland, Brazil, India, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Iran.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:02 p.m.

Briefings

GEIR O. PEDERSEN, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said his briefing is taking place on the penultimate day of the seventh session of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.  Recalling that the conflict marked the grim milestone of 11 years of conflict this month, he appealed to the members of that Committee to “work this week with the sense of seriousness and spirit of compromise that the situation demands”.  So far, members have discussed draft constitutional texts in four areas of constitutional principles:  basics of governance; State identity; State symbols; and regulation and functions of public authorities.  Noting that deliberations have not been easy, he said the members are expected to submit revisions to reflect the content of those discussions, which will begin to be deliberated on 25 March.

“We will therefore see if the next 24 hours help to move us forward,” he said.  Noting significant differences between the parties’ positions, he said it remains possible to find and build on common points, if the will exists to do so.  Serious attempts should be made by all delegations to begin to narrow differences, he said, calling for efforts that explore compromise as a way to build public trust and confidence in the process — “something sorely lacking among the Syrians at present”.

Turning to the situation on the ground, he cited growing humanitarian needs, as well as the ongoing human impacts of the country’s destruction and of the economy’s collapse.  He urged all concerned to take steps to reverse those trends, and to expand the delivery of cross-line and cross-border humanitarian assistance.  While there have been no shifts in the front lines for two years, violence has nonetheless flared between several actors — including two listed terrorist groups and five foreign armies — in the past month.  Calling for efforts to de-escalate and build a true nationwide ceasefire, he added that the parties have a duty and an interest in cooperating against terrorists.

Meanwhile, he said, Syrians on all sides continue to be affected by the plight of the detained, the abducted and the missing.  “Any credible attempt to build trust and confidence must include serious steps forward on this issue,” he stressed, adding that much could also be done by Damascus and outside actors to address the challenges and concerns expressed by Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons — namely, safety and security, lack of opportunities, inadequate housing, military service requirements and inadequate basic services.  Against that backdrop, it should be possible to identify concrete, reciprocal, verifiable measures that could be taken in parallel to shift the conflict dynamics and explore broader political progress.

Calling for international support in that vein, he welcomed the engagement of the League of Arab States, while outlining his own recent meetings with officials in Geneva, United States and Turkey.  He also continues to consult widely with Syrians, including the Women’s Advisory Board, and his office recently convened the Thematic Working Groups of the Civil Society Support Room on such topics as the economy, recovery and development perspectives.  He urged the Council to support those efforts to bring about the implementation of resolution 2254 (2015) — namely, to restore Syria’s sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of the country and to enable its people to realize their legitimate aspirations.

MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, noting that March marks 11 years of war in Syria, said such devastation “finds few parallels” in recent history.  More than 350,000 people have been killed and nearly 14 million have been displaced.  Basic services have been destroyed, and 5 million children born since the start of the conflict have known nothing but hardship.  Civilians continue to be killed and injured along front-line areas in the north-west and north-east.  In February alone, 18 civilians were killed in north-west Syria, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

He went on to describe worsening conditions at Al Hol, where some 56,000 people live, citing incidents that lead to death and injury, including of children.  Stressing that the protection of camp residents must be “front and centre”, and that the camp’s civilian character maintained, he called for the full repatriation of third-country nationals from camps in north-east Syria.  On the humanitarian front, he said 14.6 million people require aid, more than at any time since the start of the conflict, as the economic crisis pushes needs to new heights.  With 12 million people now considered food insecure, the Syrian pound reaching record lows and the war in Ukraine leading to soaring food and energy prices globally, “this is expected to have a negative impact on the region”, he stressed.

Already, he said, food prices have hit record highs each month over the last five months.  Basic commodities are expected to become less affordable, but also less available, and as many as 1 in 4 children in some areas are stunted.  Emphasizing that the most vulnerable suffer the most, he said 71 per cent of communities have reported instances of child marriage, and 84 per cent report the use of child labour.  Against this backdrop, he called for intensified early recovery efforts, stressing that “people must be allowed to lead dignified lives and see a better life for themselves and their children”.  As the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan nears finalization, $ 1.1 billion — or 26 per cent of the overall request for humanitarian aid to Syria — will support some 570 early recovery and resilience projects.

Many of these initiatives aim at improving education, health and mine clearance, he said, noting in particular that mines and explosive ordnance killed 805 people in 2021 and calling for expansion of anti-mine efforts.  At present, one third of Syrian households receive less than two hours of electricity a day and public services are similarly underserved.  The United Nations continues to engage with all parties on how to ensure the situation of ordinary Syrians is not further exacerbated by the unintended impact of sanctions.

“We cannot fail the Syrian people,” he insisted.  Yet, there is a grave risk of such outcomes unless the Council takes urgent action.  He highlighted the need for funding, notably for early recovery programmes, stressing that the 2021 Response Plan was only 46 per cent funded.  He also called for ensuring full humanitarian access to people in need, “wherever they are”, and pressed the Council to maintain consensus on renewing the resolution authorizing cross-border access for the United Nations and its partners.  Noting that his office continues to work with all parties to reinvigorate cross-line access to the north-west, he expressed his hope that another inter-agency convoy will be able to deliver aid by month’s end.  In the north-east, the United Nations must be able to coordinate the humanitarian response through its hub in Qamishli.  “Now, more than ever, we need action to show the people of Syria that they are not forgotten,” he emphasized.

HOSSAM ZAKI, Assistant Secretary General of the League of Arab States, noted that the Syrian crisis will not be immune from the impact of the worsening conflict in Ukraine.  Over the last 11 years, the conflict in Syria has created a humanitarian catastrophe with intergenerational effects, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of sanctions.  More than 12 million Syrians — over half the country’s population — have been displaced, while tens of thousands remain detained, kidnapped or missing.  Also citing the impact of the crisis on the broader region — especially countries hosting many refugees, such as Lebanon and Jordan — he expressed his hope that the upcoming sixth Brussels funding conference will alleviate the humanitarian crisis and ease the burden for host countries.

“Support for [internally displaced persons] and refugees is a shared responsibility between the international community and host countries,” he continued, noting the obligation of States to respect the human rights of displaced persons without discrimination based on race, religion or national origin.  Recalling that the League’s Foreign Ministers Council adopted a decision on the Syrian crisis on 9 March, he said its members expressed their growing concerns over the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the possible catastrophic impact resulting from rising violence in Syria, which is taking place despite a change in the front lines.  Members also recognized legitimate concerns raised over the humanitarian situation in Al Hol and Rukban camps and called on the authorities overseeing them to improve the situation for their inhabitants.

Outlining other elements of the League’s decision, he said the Foreign Ministers Council rejected all attempts to impose demographic changes on the ground in Syria and condemned attempts by Israel to invade that country’s airspace.  It further called upon donors to disburse their pledges for Syria in line with their previous commitments.  Citing the many global challenges resulting from the escalating war in Ukraine, he expressed his hope that the international community will continue to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria with the same level of interest as before it began.  He also urged the Council to renew its critical cross-border aid delivery mechanism, which expires in July, and to “avoid any politicization of this issue”.

Statements

MONA JUUL (Norway), speaking also for Ireland, recalled that 12 million in Syria are food insecure, with families now facing the “unthinkable” choice between buying food or buying fuel for heat during winter.  Child, early and forced marriages are increasing, while a staggering 3 million children were out of school in March.  While millions of people had found refuge in neighbouring countries, 40.6 million remaining in Syria need food, water, health, electricity, shelter, education and jobs.  “We must use all modalities to ensure we reach out to everyone with humanitarian needs across Syria,” she stressed, adding that, for millions in the north-west, the cross-border mechanism remains a critical lifeline.  It also best ensures monitoring and transparency.  The humanitarian imperative must be at core of the response, and she expressed support for the six‑month plan to deliver aid cross line to the north-west.  “Our key objective must be protecting and assisting the Syrian people,” she said, reiterating that only a credible political process can lead to peace.

Speaking next in her national capacity, she urged all parties to do their utmost to reach a political solution, stressing that resolution 2254 (2015) must be fully implemented.  Norway will continue to support a Syrian-owned and Syrian‑led political process and she called on all participants in the Small Body Constitutional Committee to engage in good faith this week.  Welcoming the Special Envoy’s consultations with the Women’s Advisory Board, she expressed support for the step-for-step approach to engaging all sides in carrying out reciprocal steps towards a political solution.  Emphasizing that so many Syrians are affected by the countless number of missing and detained persons, she said “progress on this issue is critical”.  She called for allowing humanitarian actors to visit detention centres and provide information to families.  She also warned against allowing Da’esh to take advantage of the situation to strengthen its position.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said there is no alternative to advancing the Syrian-owned political settlement process, without imposing artificial deadlines and in the context of resolution 2254 (2015).  He expressed hope that methodological reservations will not interfere with the current round of Constitutional Committee discussions.  Progress is needed, as the ground situation remains “potentially explosive” given the mobilization of terrorists who have taken areas not controlled by Damascus.  The solution lies in waging an “uncompromising fight” against Tahrir al-Sham and Da’esh, ending the illegal military presence in Syria, and ceasing Israel’s arbitrary air strikes.  He accused Western countries of pandering to terrorists and using them for their own aim, stressing that Da’esh and other extremists from east of the Euphrates are being transferred to other hot spots where it is beneficial to the United States.

He said the Secretary-General has abandoned the customary neutral language, appropriate for an international official, when discussing Ukraine and he requested him to provide an assessment of the United States presence in that country, in compliance with the Charter of the United Nations.  He asked that he also publicly name those occupying Syrian territory and those responsible for the situation in internally displaced person camps.  Otherwise, the Russian Federation will consider it a “vivid example” of double standards.  His delegation similarly never heard the Secretary-General’s assessment of the bombing in Raqqa, noting also that the bombing of Baghouz killed 80 people, mostly women and children.  He went on to stress that implementation of resolution 2585 (2021) is stalling, and the planned cross-line operations from Aleppo have been blocked by militants in Idlib.  Nusra Front meanwhile says that, until the next extension of the cross‑border mechanism, it will not allow domestic convoys to reach the more than 40,000 people in need.  He denounced attempts by the West to link obligations under resolution 2585 (2021) to political preconditions.  Syria is being suffocated by unilateral sanctions and he cited overcompliance by banks and insurers in this context, before stressing that the use of starvation as a weapon of warfare contravenes international humanitarian law.  He urged respect for the right of refugees to return, in line with resolution 2254 (2015), and pressed the Council not to turn a blind eye to violations of resolution 2585 (2021), which are becoming more egregious.

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States), noting that some in the Council wish to “move on” from the Syrian conflict and argue that the 15-member organ spends too much time addressing it, said that would be a mistake.  The conflict is not over, and as such, the United States will not normalize its relations with the Assad regime.  Calling on the Constitutional Committee’s Small Body to engage in good faith and offer draft texts on 25 March, he praised its civil society members, as well as the important work of women’s organizations across Syria more broadly.  He reiterated calls for a nationwide ceasefire, adding that the United States is watching with horror as the Russian Federation now uses some of the same brutal tactics in Ukraine as it has in Syria.

He noted that reports that Moscow has recruited Syrians to fight in Ukraine are particularly troubling, as that country has thousands of its own troops, but instead chooses to send Syrians “to die in President Putin’s war of choice”.  Collective efforts must focus on expanding the delivery of humanitarian aid, including into north-west Syria, which is being accomplished through the cross‑border delivery mechanism in line with resolution 2585 (2021).  In that regard, he noted that relying solely on cross-line aid would be a “risky endeavour” given its insufficient capacity and the Assad regime’s history of attacking civilians.  Responding to the accusation by the delegate of the Russian Federation of civilian casualties caused by the United States in Syria, he described that statement as “brazenly hypocritical” in light of Moscow’s own history of attacking civilians, as well as civilian infrastructure, without regard for human life.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said Syria President Bashar al-Assad is guilty of war crimes.  To ignore these crimes is to question the possibility of lasting peace, which is why France stands opposed to international rehabilitation efforts.  Moreover, Syria’s reintegration into the Arab League will not end external interference in the country or regional instability.  Noting that France will continue its “relentless” fight against impunity in Syria, he went on to stress that nearly 14 million Syrians have been forced to flee and cannot return home without fear of violence, arbitrary arrests and torture.  Some 14.6 million people now need humanitarian assistance.  “International humanitarian law is not an option,” he stressed.  “It is an obligation that applies to everyone.”  The protection of civilians — including humanitarian and medical personnel — is a top priority, as are efforts to ensure full humanitarian access.  The cross-border humanitarian mechanism will be necessary as long as aid does not reach all people in need.  He pointed to resolution 2254 (2015) as the only way for the Council to reach a political solution to the conflict.  The political process must make progress and each player must take responsibility, he said, first and foremost Syria’s regime and its Russian ally.

DAI BING (China) called on all parties in Syria to make good use of the hard-won opportunity of the seventh meeting of the Constitutional Committee’s Small Body, and to achieve positive outcomes.  Noting that the situation in Syria does not justify the imposition of unilateral coercive sanctions, he cited their devastating impact on that country’s economy and called for their lifting, pointing out the many development and recovery projects recently undertaken by the Syrian Government.  Meanwhile, humanitarian efforts should focus on the delivery of basic goods and services, he said, voicing China’s opposition to the imposition of any political conditions on international reconstruction efforts.  Instead, more efforts are needed to increase the frequency of cross-line aid deliveries and to ensure safety and security of humanitarian relief teams.  He added that Syria’s oil resources belong to the Syrian people, demanding that foreign forces present in the country stop stealing and smuggling them.  Syria should also be allowed to return to the “big family” of the League of Arab States, from which it is currently suspended, he said.

JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) denounced the Russian Federation’s actions in both Ukraine and Syria as inhumane and deplorable.  There is no military solution to the conflict in Syria.  He expressed support for the United Nations‑facilitated, Syrian-led process outlined in resolution 2254 (2015) and urged the Council to call again for a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian access and refugee return.  There are 14.6 million Syrians who require humanitarian assistance — more than 80 per cent of the population.  Some 6.6 million are registered as refugees and 6.7 million are displaced.  It is essential that international law is respected and that any refugee returns are conducted in a voluntary, safe and dignified manner.  The United Kingdom is committed to the cross-border mandate outlined under resolution 2585 (2021).  The Council must support its renewal, he said, calling more broadly on all parties to ensure access to humanitarian aid.  The United Kingdom is opposed to engagement with Syria President Bashar al-Assad in the absence of behavioural change, he explained.  He encouraged all parties in the Constitutional Committee, especially the Syrian regime, to engage, while urging the regime’s backers to redouble their efforts to find a way forward.

ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) said the Assad regime has “disfigured Syria into a dystopian wasteland of endless suffering and cruelty”.  Violence is on the rise, more than 12.4 million Syrians are food insecure and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is having an impact on the country’s many challenges.  Nearly 7 million are internally displaced, over 90 per cent of the population has been plunged under the poverty line, and the economy is in free fall.  “This is hell on earth,” she said.  “This regime simply does not care.”  She called for the full implementation of resolution 2254 (2015), which must be the Council’s “absolute priority”.  The Constitutional Committee meanwhile has produced “mainly disappointment”, primarily due to lack of involvement by Syria’s regime.  Absent constant pressure from the Council, and any deadlines, it risks becoming a smokescreen for inaction.  She advocated strong support for unhindered access to humanitarian assistance through all modalities, including reauthorized cross‑border operations, for which there is no alternative, as well as cross-line aid and early recovery projects.  She also reiterated the call for a nationwide ceasefire, adding that all refugee returns must respect the principle of non‑refoulement.

MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), also speaking on behalf of Gabon and Ghana, said the people of Syria require international support as they struggle to regain their footing “under the most difficult of circumstances”.  Commending the parties of the Small Body of the Constitutional Committee for holding crucial discussions, he advocated for innovative solutions, such as addressing the situation of detainees and taking a step-for-step approach.  All political initiatives should be inclusive and consider the voices of the widest spectrum of the Syrian society, including women, youth, minority groups and civil society.  He condemned the unrelenting violence in north-west Syria, as well as concern over the activities of listed terrorist groups such as Da’esh and the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and echoed calls for a nationwide ceasefire.  The Council’s African members also remain gravely concerned by the plight of millions of people in dire need, access to whom can be achieved through the cross-border aid mechanism complemented by cross-line aid.  All actors should support economic recovery measures as a key component of the longer-term peace that Syria and the region need, he said.

ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico) underscored the key role of civil society in rebuilding Syria’s social cohesion, and in that context, commended the Special Envoy for maintaining regular contact with the Women’s Advisory Board.  She emphasized that there is no military solution to the conflict, welcoming the latest discussions in the Small Body of the Constitutional Committee and calling on parties to commit to them in a serious manner.  She described resolution 2254 (2015) as the road map for achieving lasting peace in the country, and called on all Member States to cooperate with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria, underscoring the importance of investigating and trying those responsible for atrocities.  Citing higher fuel prices and the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on grain supply, she said Mexico recognizes the value of cross-line operations, notably as a complement to cross-border operations, and believes both modalities are necessary.  Early recovery projects, meanwhile, are vital to mitigating the effects of more than a decade of conflict, and she underscored the need for a nationwide ceasefire.

MARTIN GALLAGHER (Ireland) said 11 years of conflict have now elapsed in Syria, with more than 350,000 people killed, at least 100,000 disappeared and a generation of children having grown up knowing nothing but war.  “If we continue on the current trajectory, the multitude of worst-case consequences in Syria will be inevitable,” he stressed, urging the parties to urgently adhere to a permanent, nationwide ceasefire.  Praising the Special Envoy’s work and urging the members of the Constitutional Committee’s Small Body to narrow their differences, he repeated his calls on the parties — especially the Syrian authorities — to cease all indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.  He also paid special tribute to the women of Syria, who have shown incredible resilience and leadership, and called for an end to all violations of fundamental human rights and humanitarian law which continue to be documented across the country.

JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) said his delegation looks forward to the outcomes of the seventh session of the Small Body’s Constitutional Committee convened this week in Geneva, stressing that it is “high time” for the political dialogue to show practical results.  He highlighted the protection of civilians as among the significant concerns, echoing calls for an immediate nationwide ceasefire and for early recovery initiatives to rebuild infrastructure essential to the provision of health, education, electricity, water and sanitation services.  He also called for assessing the impact of sanctions on civilian life, adding that humanitarian exemptions must be strictly observed.  Countering terrorist activity should remain a priority, notably as poverty and political instability offer fertile ground for extremist forces.  Life-saving international aid to the Syrian people is still paramount both in cross-line and cross-border modalities.  He underscored the importance of keeping cross-border humanitarian operations under close monitoring, and collaboration among all parties for the expansion of cross‑line operations.

RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India), stressing that the time has come for Syrians to determine what is best for their own future, welcomed the convening of the seventh session of the Small Body and expressed his hope that the parties will make progress on drafting a constitution.  India has been consistent in its support for regional efforts to find a long-term solution to the conflict, he said, noting that the progressive normalization of Syria’s relations with its Arab neighbours in the recent months is an encouraging development.  Voicing concern about the overall security situation, he said violence continues in the country’s north-west and north-east, including incidents of ceasefire violations.  A more comprehensive ceasefire requires the withdrawal of foreign forces, he said, also drawing attention to the looming threat posed by the resurgence of terrorist groups — including Da’esh and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — in Syria, as well as Iraq.  “The global fight against terrorism cannot and should not be compromised for narrow political gains,” he said.

LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), Council President for March, spoke in her national capacity, underlining the urgent need for practical and effective solutions to end the Syrian crisis.  Expressing support for the Special Envoy’s work, as well as the convening of the seventh session of the Constitutional Committee, she reiterated her country’s rejection of all foreign interference in Syria, whose sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected.  On the humanitarian front, it is unacceptable to leave the Syrian people — including those who are displaced — to face horrendous conditions in which they lack the most basic needs, such as electricity, food and drinking water.  The provision of medical supplies to Syria amid the pandemic remains a priority for the United Arab Emirates, she said, noting that only about 6 per cent of Syrians have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.  She also supported the continued delivery of humanitarian aid across the border into Syria, in accordance with resolution 2585 (2021), also urging all parties to cooperate to ensure that cross-line aid reaches those in need.

BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said this month marks the eleventh anniversary of the campaign by several foreign countries, via proxy terrorist groups, against his nation.  Recalling the modern, progressive, tolerant society that prevailed in the country before that aggression, he decried the activities of United States and Turkish occupation forces and the threat posed by Israeli attacks across the region.  Those countries claim “concern” about the situation in Syria and frequently issue calls to “stop the violence”, despite being the ones who are fuelling it.  Indeed, the suffering of the Syrian people began when those countries undermined first their peace and stability and imposed unilateral coercive measures.  Today, those same States obstruct efforts to begin early recovery projects that could help build a safer and more resilient Syria.  Calls for a political solution are merely hypocritical calls for those countries’ own vision of a political solution, he said, warning against the imposition of a political framework that is inconsistent with the history and values of Syria’s people.

Meanwhile, he continued, when those aggressor countries speak of accountability, they do not mean accountability for their own actions.  He cautioned against such double standards and distorted interpretations of international law, stressing that killing Syrians and stealing their resources are indeed crimes that require accountability.  Syria stands committed to working with the United Nations and international partners, including by enhancing the delivery of humanitarian aid from within its territory, implementing early recovery projects and creating the conditions needed for the return of those displaced.  He underlined the need for full respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, spotlighting the Government’s many ongoing recovery and reconciliation efforts.  In addition, he rejected any foreign interference in the work of the Constitutional Committee, as well as attempts to obstruct its work, and the imposition of predetermined outcomes or artificial timelines.

ÖNCÜ KEÇELI (Turkey) said Bashar al-Assad started a war against his own people 11 years ago, describing it as a man-made disaster that left no family untouched.  Indeed, civilians continue to be victims of indiscriminate attacks by the regime and its backers.  He called for an inclusive political settlement, in line with resolution 2254 (2015), more broadly stressing that the seventh round of Constitutional Committee must produce tangible results.  Its meetings should be held more often, and Turkey will continue to support the Special Envoy’s efforts in this context.  Clarifying that there is no place for terrorist elements in the political process, he said ceasefire violations in Idlib and disruptions to aid would unleash a new humanitarian crisis.  A military solution will have dire consequences, first and foremost, for the regime.  Da’esh meanwhile remains a threat to neighbouring countries, and he accused PKK/YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces of committing war crimes in northern Syria.  An approach that ignores these facts will in no way bring stability to areas east of the Euphrates.  He pointed out that Turkey’s request for an investigation into attacks by this group against a hospital have gone unanswered, adding that his country also has provided temporary protection to nearly 4 million Syrians.  Given the precarious humanitarian conditions, there is no alternative to cross-border operations.  The international community must act in a principled, responsive manner to the crisis in Syria.

MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) said unilateral coercive measures have had disastrous consequences on civilian life in Syria and they contravene resolution 2585 (2021).  They also have impacted the work of international and national humanitarian groups.  “These illegal and destructive measures must immediately end,” he stressed, pressing the Council to ensure that resolution 2585 (2021) is implemented in a balanced and effective manner, especially as related to early recovery efforts and the lifting of unilateral coercive measures.  Syria’s sovereignty cannot be jeopardized in the name of countering terrorism.  He called for all occupying forces, including those of the United States, to leave Syria unconditionally.  He said Israel’s 7 March attack on civilian infrastructure is a clear violation of international humanitarian law and called on the Council to hold it responsible.  He expressed support for the intra‑Syria discussions underway in Geneva, stressing that there is no alternative to a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned process, which is free from artificial deadlines.

For information media. Not an official record.