Amid Bloodshed in Aleppo, Special Envoy for Syria Briefs Security Council, Calling on Russian Federation, United States to Save Ceasefire at ‘Eleventh Hour’
As the United States and the Russian Federation traded accusations in the Security Council today of misconduct in their handling of the crisis in Syria over the past two weeks, the United Nations top official addressing the conflict urged them to salvage their recent cessation of hostilities agreement before all hope was lost.
“The conflict cannot be resolved through negotiations without the help of the [International Syria Support Group] co-chairs… I am asking and urging them to go that extra mile to save the 9 September agreement at the eleventh hour,” Staffan De Mistura, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, told the 15-member body in an emergency session.
“A tiny window of opportunity still exists” for a ceasefire to hold, he said, stressing the need to end terrorism and ground the Syrian air force. The international community had come too far to quit, the Special Envoy said, defying calls for him to resign, which would only send a message that the United Nations had given up hope.
The bloodshed during the past week in Aleppo had been among the worst since the conflict broke out in March 2011, “deteriorating to new heights of horror”, he said, as the cessation of hostilities unravelled and that city was pounded by Government air strikes beginning 18 September, killing 213 people and wiping out civilian infrastructure. Rescue workers and medical personnel were overwhelmed as some 275,000 people trapped in the eastern part of the city scrambled for scarce supplies of food and water, while horrific attacks on a United Nations aid convoy killed 20 workers and destroyed 18 of 31 clearly identified trucks.
The United Nations, he continued, could not verify the number of air strikes, and sources on the ground no longer had the capacity to count them as they took place at night and on an unprecedented quantity and scale. There were “new bombs that lit up the pitch darkness in eastern Aleppo as though it was daylight,” he said. “If confirmed, the systematic use of such weapons in civilian areas may amount to war crimes.”
Despite the Syrian Government’s claim to liberate “every inch” of Syria and squeeze out terrorists without civilian casualties, major military clashes were occurring on the front lines and there were contradicting statements from the opposition on whether the counter offenses were led by Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant or the Fatah Halab operations room of the Free Syrian Army, he said.
“The so-called military victory or solution in Syria is impossible, including in Aleppo,” he said, warning that: “If the Syrian Government is intent on retaking it completely… it’s going to be a slow, grinding, street-by-street fight over the course of months if not years, whereby the ancient city will be completely destroyed.”
Mr. de Mistura urged the Council to press for a cessation of the violence to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure; medical evacuations and weekly 48‑hour pauses to ensure the Organization and its aid partners could reach eastern Aleppo.
After his briefing, the permanent representatives of the United States and the Russian Federation exchanged accusations over one another’s conduct, with the United States delegate saying that, while the Council had met last week, the Russian Federation had been preparing to rain bombs on Aleppo. What the Russian Federation was sponsoring was not counter-terrorism, it was barbarism, and the Council, in a single voice, must tell the Russian Federation to stop.
Her Russian counterpart retorted that the United States had been unable to influence its groups in Syria. During the ceasefire discussions, the Russian Federation had compromised, and along with the Syrian Armed Forces, it had addressed a threat of terrorist organizations’ taking over swaths of Aleppo, he said. The situation in the city could have been normalized in August, but armed groups, including Nusrah Front, had threatened it, using civilians as human shields, while the coalition of illegal armed groups and the opposition’s temporary government had blocked access to a key road for aid delivery. The political process must be renewed and there must a sincere desire to disassociate Nusrah Front from the moderate opposition, he stressed.
Syria’s representative, welcoming the recent United States-Russian Federation agreement, said his Government supported the ceasefire, but terrorist groups and their supporters were hampering progress. It was time for the Council to stop the moderate armed groups. The Syrian people’s suffering must end, and the politicization of the crisis would only prolong it.
Council members took the floor to express grief and outrage over the escalating violence and to press for a political, non-military solution.
The speaker from the Ukraine voiced reservations and doubts about the true nature of the Russian involvement. “The idea that a regime victory would lead to an enforced stability in Syria is a dangerous fantasy,” he said.
The representative of Venezuela, however, said military action against the Syrian army by the United States-led anti-Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) coalition was to blame for the breakdown of the cessation of hostilities. Foreign intervention was condemned to failure and jeopardized the region’s future stability and peace, as the wars in Iraq and Libya had illustrated. The future of Syria and its Government should solely be made by the Syrians, he said, urging Council members to go beyond their differences and seek a path to peace, which should include the legitimate Government of Bashar al-Assad.
The representatives of Egypt and Angola said the conflict was clearly a proxy war for world Powers that must end through a more open, inclusive approach.
The representatives of Spain and New Zealand applauded Mr. De Mistura’s courage for staying the course and backed his efforts.
Also speaking today were representatives of France, United Kingdom, China, Senegal, Uruguay, Malaysia and Japan.
The meeting began at 11:04 a.m. and ended at 1:38 p.m.
STAFFAN DE MISTURA, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said “these are indeed chilling days”, for Syria and the people of Aleppo. The past week had been one of the worst weeks since the Syrian conflict broke out in March 2011. He deeply regretted that earlier in the week the meeting of the International Syria Support Group did not yield the desired results. The 9 September agreement reached by the two Support Group co-chairs intended to relaunch the cessation of hostilities. Yet, their meeting took place in the middle of the Government of Syria declaring a defensive in what was now a de facto seize of Aleppo. Compounding those tragic events were the attacks in Deir ez-Zor and on United Nations aid convoys. While the first incident was acknowledged as a mistake, no incident could justify what was going on in the front lines.
The unravelling of the cessation of hostilities and unprecedented military violence was affecting millions of civilians, he said. The renewed cessation of hostilities that came into effect three days after the 9 September agreement had not reduced the violence. At first families had been coming out of shelters to celebrate Eid; people were cautiously optimistic and sporadic shelling continued. Then, on 18 September air strikes resumed on Aleppo, with some 275,000 people trapped in the eastern part of the city. Only minutes after the 19 September Government announcement to resume air strikes, the United Nations team in Aleppo clearly heard sounds of shelling and bombardment. That day, the Secretary-General reported horrific attacks against humanitarian convoys, killing 20 workers, including Syrians, and destroying 18 out of 31 clearly identified trucks. The United Nations had condemned those attacks and called for an inquiry and for accountability.
“Since that day, we’ve seen Aleppo deteriorating to new heights of horror,” he said. The Government’s offensive across eastern Aleppo led to the cancellation of Friday prayers. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had received information on air strikes on Friday and Saturday. First responders were overwhelmed. Four centres operated by the “White Helmets” volunteers were hit. Rescue workers lacked supplies to remove people from the rubble. The recent air strikes had led to 213 fatalities in Aleppo, including 139 in the eastern part of the city and 74 in rural areas. The United Nations could not verify the number of air strike, and sources on the ground no longer had the capacity to count them as they took place at night and on an unprecedented quantity and scale. There were “new bombs that lit up the pitch darkness in eastern Aleppo as though it was daylight”, he said. There were pictures of large craters in the earth, much larger than in previous bombings. “If confirmed, the systematic use of such weapons in civilian areas may amount to war crimes,” he said, adding that civilians were asking where they could be safe. In addition, people were throwing rudimentary gas canisters full of stones and irons across Aleppo.
Medical centres were being targeted, he continued, including an alleged strike on an ambulance in southern Aleppo, causing fatalities among medical staff. Streets filled with large pieces of rubble were unpassable for ambulances. As a result, up to 270,000 people in eastern Aleppo had been under a form of de facto seize since roads become blocked in July. Only 12,000 food rations sufficient for 60,000 of the 270,000 people in eastern Aleppo were available. People lacked bread as bakeries had been hit, as well as cooking fuel and other supplies.
Since the start of the renewed cessation of hostilities, the World Food Programme (WFP) had planned to send daily convoys, he said. Every morning, at 5 a.m., they were ready to go — with rations for 35,000 people and flour for 130,000. Yet, the convoys never received sufficient guarantees from either side and then the cessation of hostilities broke down. Two million people lacked access to the public water network in eastern and western Aleppo. On 22 September, the water pump serving the eastern part of city was reportedly hit by air strikes. In a grave tit-for-tat move, the western side was then hit. After difficult last-minute negotiations by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), water delivery had resumed. But, well water had become highly contaminated; people, particularly children, were at risk for water-borne disease.
For the sake of the humanitarian cause, he asked the Security Council to press for a cessation of the violence to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure; weekly 48-hour pauses to ensure the United Nations and it partners could reach eastern Aleppo; and medical evacuations.
After the 9 September agreement, he continued, President Bashar al-Assad pledged to liberate “every inch” of what was left of Syria and to squeeze out terrorists without civilian casualties. But, civilians were dying in large numbers. Major military clashes were occurring on the front lines. On Saturday, Government forces said they had taken over 100 districts north of the city. There contradicting statements from the opposition on whether the counter offenses were led by Nusrah Front or the Fatah Halab operations room of the Free Syrian Army. He noted reports of the allegedly intentional placement of firing positions in infrastructure close to civilian quarters.
“Neither side will win and therefore both will ultimately lose, and the Syrian people will lose,” he said, if the violence did not stop. On Aleppo, he said: “If the Syrian Government is intent on retaking it completely… it’s going to be a slow, grinding street-by-street fight over the course of months if not years, whereby the ancient city will be completely destroyed.”
There was an “illusion of imminent victory”, he continued, saying: “The so-called military victory or solution in Syria is impossible, including in Aleppo.” In forging the 9 September agreement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and United States Secretary of State John Kerry said they were concerned about making statements without follow up. “I want to believe that they really meant what they said and they really want it to work,” he said. But, the international community and the Syrians were losing any remaining hope and the international community was losing credibility with its partners.
“A tiny window of opportunity still exists,” he said, for the cessation of hostilities to hold, urging the bloody conflict not to become worse. The Secretary-General had called for resumed talks with the Support Group and its co-chairs. Recalling that China’s Foreign Minister had said on Thursday that the Council had the responsibility to ensure the cessation of hostilities was re-launched, he said: “The conflict cannot be resolved through negotiations without the help of the co-chairs… I am asking and urging them to go that extra mile to save the 9 September agreement at the eleventh hour,” stressing the need to end terrorism in Syria and the region and to ground the Syrian air force.
A common course of action was needed to develop a cessation of hostilities. “I’m still convinced that we can see a turn of events,” he said, saying the international community had come too far to quit. He said he had been asked to resign, but would not as doing so would be a signal that the United Nations was quitting the Syrians, and along with it the hope that the international community wanted to get out of the conflict.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said the meeting had been convened because the Russian Federation and the Assad regime had launched an operation on Aleppo. The Assad regime believed in a military solution, and along with the Russian Federation, was launching attacks on areas they had claimed were terrorist targets and reports had shown the use of “double-tap” air strikes, consisting of initial bombardment followed by a subsequent attack on first responders, including civilians and White Helmets volunteers. In addition, water was being used as a weapon of war, with reports of poisoning or shutting off supplies. Eastern Aleppo remained under siege, with basic supplies and electricity becoming scarce. Describing the devastating consequences of those attacks, she said populations had been trapped and cut off from the aid they badly needed.
The Russian Federation had the power to stop that suffering, she said. Last week, the United States had sponsored two meetings of the International Syria Support Group to help to get onto a path of a political transition. Her country would continue to look for ways to implement a cessation of hostilities. While the Council had met last week, the Russian Federation had been preparing to rain bombs on Aleppo, she said, noting that the air strikes that had been made on residential neighbourhoods could be considered to be war crimes. What was certain today was that the Russian Federation would not tell the truth. The Russian Federation, in Syria and Aleppo, was abusing its historical privilege of having a permanent seat on the Council. What the Russian Federation was sponsoring was not counter-terrorism, it was barbarism. What was being done in Aleppo was apocalyptic, she said, adding that the Council, in a single voice, must tell the Russian Federation to stop.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said developments in the last 24 hours demonstrated a new turn in the conflict, noting that the Government of Syria’s so-called anti-terrorist operations had bombed areas containing homes, hospitals, schools and refugees. That violated international humanitarian law and Council resolutions. Aleppo was a symbolic city that was under a medieval-type siege. The indiscriminate and systematic use of new weapons constituted war crimes. If the international community failed to act, this week would become a triumph of barbarism and brutality. Saving Aleppo was the Council’s priority today, he said, expressing hope for the immediate implementation of the ceasefire drafted by the United States and the Russian Federation. “The Council today is at a moment of truth,” he said. He expected the Russian Federation to stop supporting the military option and to find a negotiated solution. A collective approach was the only possible option.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the Assad regime and the Russian Federation were reducing Aleppo to rubble. Bunker-busting bombs had destroyed homes and shelters and incendiary weapons were being used, he said, underlining that the Russian Federation was partnering with the Syrian regime in committing war crimes. The Russian Federation should be creating, not destroying, the conditions for a resumption of political talks. However, the Russian Federation now had no credibility left on those issues. The Syrian people would not forget the actions of the Syrian regime and the Russian Federation, nor that the Council’s inaction, including a failure to stop the suffering. It was the Russian Federation’s four vetoes that had caused such inaction, he said, underlining that the Council must now decide on how to enforce an immediate end of the sieges and violence in Aleppo and Syria. “We must speak loudly and clearly that there will be accountability for these crimes, including the use of chemical weapons,” he said. That was the only way for the Russian Federation to atone for its deplorable actions in Syria.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said the 2003 invasion into Iraq had triggered a trend and that today, hundreds of armed groups were operating in the region. Recalling the Russian Federation and the United States’ 9 September agreement, he said some parties had been against that move. The United States had been unable to influence its groups in Syria and there was a challenge of identifying terrorist groups from the moderate opposition. During the ceasefire discussions, the Russian Federation had compromised and had held discussions with the Government of Syria. Most recently, the Syrian Armed Forces and the Russian Federation had addressed a threat of terrorist organizations’ taking over swaths of Aleppo. Referring to the recent attack on humanitarian convoy, he said that the United States had focused on that incident in last week’s meeting. Today, it was clear that investigations must be made. Citing other attacks on civilian areas, he said his Western counterparts had indicated they would discuss an attack reportedly involving French air strikes and more attention was needed on that incident.
The situation in Aleppo could have been normalized in August, he said. However, armed groups had threatened the situation, with many holding eastern Aleppo, including Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant. During recent discussions with the United States, information that had been requested had not been delivered with regard to the situation on the ground. Citing recent tragedies that had seen terrorist groups using civilians as human shields, he said Nusrah Front was a main force there, with mass killings of civilians who had sought to leave the area. Further, the coalition of illegal armed groups and the opposition’s temporary government had blocked access to a key road for aid delivery. The rebels were taking medicine and food that had been sent to civilians, he said, emphasizing that terrorist groups had veritably taken the civilian population hostage. Nusrah Front were trying to attack from the south and west of the city, he said, noting 40 such attacks on 1 September. In countering those terrorist threats, the Syrian Government used air attacks that had the minimum effect on civilians. There was an information campaign to discredit the Government of Syria, with old film clips from western Aleppo being used as erroneous depictions of the city’s eastern part.
The political process must be renewed, he said. An ongoing political process was among the important conditions that should have assisted in the upholding of the cessation of hostilities agreement. He asked the Special Envoy who had refused direct negotiations. The cessation of hostilities was the goal alongside the renewal of negotiations. A sincere desire must be demonstrated to disassociate the moderate opposition from Nusrah Front and evidence must be presented.
LIU JIEYI (China) expressed deep concerns and regret over recent incidents in the lingering conflict. The situation must end, he said. The international community must work to implement the ceasefire agreement and the Geneva talks must be restarted to achieve arrangements that accommodate all interests. Regional countries should play a positive role in addressing the situation, all relevant parties must ensure humanitarian supplies were delivered in a timely manner and the international community must provide the needed assistance, including to neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees. Counter-terrorism was a key to resolving the Syrian conflict and terrorist groups must been rooted out, with the international community helping to tackle all terrorist organizations, including Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), that had been recognized by the Security Council. Such actions should include cutting off financing for those groups. For its part, China would contribute to efforts to address combatting terrorism and resolving the situation in Syria.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said a political solution must be based on the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the Government of Syria. Military action in the anti-ISIL coalition headed by the United States against the Syrian army had jeopardized the upholding of the cessation of hostilities. He regretted the indiscriminate attack by the United States, Australia and New Zealand airplanes on 17 September, followed by a land offensive by Da’esh to regain ground. United States Secretary of State Kerry’s statement that “this is war” had threatened the fragile cessation of hostilities. The city of 250,000 people was only being defended by the Syrian army. The deadly attack on the aid convoy was a horrific act. Aid convoys should not be considered military targets and international criminal pursuit against those responsible should be considered. The decision of the future of Syria and its Government should solely be made by the Syrians. Armed confrontation and foreign intervention were condemned to failure and jeopardized future stability and peace in the region. Iraq and Libya had been thrown into bloodshed after foreign military interventions. Since the primary enemy in the region was terrorism, the moderate opposition must end its alliance with Da’esh and stop receiving foreign support. He was concerned that the situation on the ground could be further threatened.
Making today’s Council meeting a propaganda event against the Russian Federation and Syria would not restore trust between the parties, nor alleviate the humanitarian suffering or resume efforts on the ground for a renewed cessation of hostilities, he said. Council members must go beyond their differences and they must resume political negotiations and seek a path to peace, which should include the legitimate Government of Bashar al-Assad.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said those powers with influence on the ground had so far failed to recognize that the only parties that bore the brunt of the crisis were Syrian civilians. Everyone had recognized that the war in Syria was a proxy war and that stopping the bloodshed was dependent on the end of the military confrontation. The recent Russian-United States brokered agreement was the only available opportunity to achieve a ceasefire before it was too late. He regretted that the Support Group co-chairs had so far failed in implementing their agreement. He expressed surprise and regret over the different accounts on what was taking place on the ground at this critical juncture, although both the Russian Federation and the United States had the technical capacity to give accurate accounts. He called on them to set aside their rivalries and differences to implement the cessation of hostilities without any media confrontations, which would conflagrate the situation and kill any hope. He called on all parties on the ground to support the implementation of the agreement in good faith and on the Special Envoy to call for a relaunching of negotiations as soon as possible without any preconditions. “The time has come for all of us to think foremost in interest in the Syrian people, away from narrow political interests or aspirations,” he said.
ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) thanked the Special Envoy for not throwing in the towel. He condemned the Assad region and its firm intention to take over eastern Aleppo through assault and in violation of all Council resolutions on the subject. Now it was up to Council members with direct influence on the Assad Government, particularly the Russian Federation, to put an end to the escalation of violence in Aleppo. “Spain still believes it is possible to find a way out of conflict through diplomatic means. We are with you Staffan,” he said. The focus should be on three things: guaranteeing a ceasefire, ensuring humanitarian access, and creating the necessary conditions to resume United Nations mediations. Spain supported the United States proposal to put an end to the air strikes and still trusted that it could serve as a basis for a new Support Group-sponsored agreement. There should be a minimum level of trust so that aid could get through to Aleppo. He also supported opposition to terrorist groups; it was important to draw the line and make it clear to the opposition that they had to make a choice and ask them: “Are you on this side or the other side? And we must not fall victim to ambiguities,” he said. The most urgent matter was to put an end to the fighting, particularly attacks on civilians, aid convoys and critical building infrastructure. The attack on humanitarian convoys was a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and it could not go unpunished. Spain would closely follow the conclusions of the investigation into the attack by the Secretary-General.
JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) regretted to say that the United States and the Russian Federation has been unable to coordinate efforts to ensure a ceasefire agreement. It seemed the key stakeholders were pursuing a diplomatic process that was not only losing credibility in Syria, but in the Council and in world public opinion. Identifying key opposition groups that were coordinating with terrorist organizations was essential and attacks on civilian areas could not be condoned. It was evident that there were elements undermining ceasefire efforts. Going forward in seeking a solution to the current dismal situation, he said the United States and the Russian Federation must include others, including Council members, in discussions on a ceasefire to ensure success of a cessation of hostilities. Syria could not be a stage for a proxy war of world Powers, he said, noting that the current situation “will haunt us for generations to come” unless a timely solution could be found. In a quest for a solution, a more open and inclusive approach must be taken to salvage negotiations and ensure the delivery of much-needed aid. For its part, the Council must urge for the cessation of hostilities, a weekly 48-hour pause in fighting and the start of negotiations on a political solution.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said meetings, resolutions and discussions had yet to end the destruction and death. Despite praiseworthy efforts of humanitarian agencies in providing much-needed aid, an entire country and heritage were collapsing. The ceasefire that had been established in Security Council resolution 2268 (2016) was currently being flouted. The hopes that had been pinned to the recent agreement were being torn to shreds amid the large-scale attack on Aleppo. Senegal called for the cessation of hostilities agreement to be maintained and the establishment of a joint command centre to ensure it was being respected. He supported the Special Envoy’s recommendations. Now, a consensus was needed among relevant parties to combat terrorism. As long as the Council was divided and the Support Group was inactive, terrorist groups would prevail in attracting foreign fighters and bolstering their ranks. Hoping for a political solution, he said war was not an option.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said the attacks on Aleppo amounted to a massacre. As Council members had been called to a weekend meeting, the body must answer the call to uphold its responsibilities. As long as Aleppo continued to be bombed, civilians could not be protected. Reiterating support for the Special Envoy, he said advancing the negotiating process was essential. Urging the Russian Federation and the United States to resume the process, he said that without them, bombs would continue to fall and people would continue to die. Good faith on both Russian and American sides had been demonstrated and they must continue to meet with a view to advancing the process to end violence.
RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) said the Council had witnessed a collective failure to act to address the situation in Syria. While there was broad agreement that there was no military solution to the conflict, he said the latest attack on Aleppo had dashed hopes for the 9 September agreement. Conflicting parties must not lose sight of peace, he said, demanding they all respected international law, including ensuring the delivery of aid and civilian protection. Favouring a recommendation from France on establishing a monitoring mechanism to ensure the success of a ceasefire, he said “we must move beyond verbal condemnations”. Instead the Council must support actions that would end violence and begin negotiations for a peaceful solution.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) condemned the decision of the Government in Damascus and its allies to stage an offensive against eastern Aleppo. The actions of the Syrian regime and its allies went against the very core of international humanitarian law and violated the principles of human decency. “Is this the state of affairs that this Council is prepared to accept as a fact of life or is it something the Council can finally muster the courage to counter?”, he asked. The latter was dependent on the political will of just two Council members. The 48 hours of sustained, deadly aerial and ground bombing of besieged eastern Aleppo beginning on Thursday “spoke volumes on the true intentions” of Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies. The Syrian delegate’s statement that the “victory” was “even greater” because the Syrian army was progressing in the war against terrorism was particularly cynical and revealing. Throughout the year, the Ukrainian delegation repeatedly voiced reservations and doubts about the true nature of the Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict. Any hopes on reaching a workable arrangement with the Russian Federation and the Assad regime now were misplaced, as long as they were both bound to a military solution. To those planning the retake of eastern Aleppo, he said: “The idea that a regime victory would lead to an enforced stability in Syria is a dangerous fantasy.” “Realization of the so-called Grozy scenario in Syria was not possible and not sustainable,” he said. There were no prospects for a military solution if history was a guide. “Is it worth more and more lives of Syrians? I doubt it,” he said.
YOSHIFUMI OKAMURA (Japan), calling on the United Nations to investigate the incidents involving the recent attack on a humanitarian convoy near Aleppo, called on relevant stakeholders to ensure the security of all aid workers in Syria. He also urged the Government of Syria, opposition groups and all States with influence to work to enable the safe passage of aid trucks scheduled to enter eastern Aleppo from the Turkish border on 26 September. Only an immediate ceasefire could ensure increased humanitarian access, civilian protection and the resumption of the political process, he said, emphasizing that the United States-Russian Federation agreement of 9 September must be placed back on track.
CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand) said that four days after the Council meeting chaired by her Prime Minister, it was with utter dismay that the body would again meet as Syrian planes, reportedly with Russian support, inflicted carnage on eastern Aleppo. Those actions, reportedly including the use of incendiary and other indiscriminate weapons, shattered all remaining hopes for maintaining the cessation of hostilities and getting the peace process back on track. “All those who claim to support peace must back words with action,” she said, demanding the Syrian Government immediately cease its bombing of civilians and show genuine commitment to achieve a negotiated peace and to all those genuinely committed to a political solution to do the same, particularly those whose political and material support was making the Syrian Government’s actions possible. “Your support is undermining any remaining prospects for the peace process. And it is destroying innocent lives under the guise of countering terrorism,” she said.
The Syrian Government must ground its planes, hold back its armies and honour its commitments under Council resolutions 2254 (2015) and 2268 (2016), she continued. “New Zealand appeals to the Governments of Russia and Iran: if you are serious about peace, do everything in your power in the coming days to halt the fighting and give the [United States-Russian Federation] arrangement a chance.” The opposition also had responsibilities. All those with influence over the opposition must encourage it to respect the ceasefire and disassociate itself from terrorist groups. The actions of the Syrian Government and its allies were making that disassociation harder and prolonging the war. “All involved in Syria need to take a hard look at themselves and ask whether they intend to be genuine collaborators in the search for peace,” she concluded.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said three of the Council’s members had behaved as though they were reinventing the wheel, while with lies being told, crocodile tears shed and 13 violations of a Council presidential statement committed through the bombing of Syrian Armed Forces and other targets. Aleppo was not just a town, but one of Syria’s capital cities and just as the United States would never give up Texas, his Government would never relinquish an inch of its territory. With a view to protecting citizens from armed terrorist groups, the Syrian Armed Forces and its allies had responded, including taking measures to help civilians leave Aleppo, which had a population of 2 million. Condemning the use of internationally prohibited weapons, he denounced allegations made by certain Council members about his Government’s use of such weapons and the deliberate targeting of civilians. The armed groups’ actions, including their seizure of a chlorine gas factory 40 kilometres from Aleppo, had meanwhile been ignored. He referred to a report that terrorist groups were now planning to use phosphorous gas and blame its use on the Syrian Armed Forces, he underlined that his country had continuously reported such illegal acts to the Council.
Welcoming the recent United States-Russian Federation agreement, he said his Government supported the ceasefire. Yet, those States that were “employing” terrorist groups in Syria had seen that more than 20 armed groups had rejected the agreement, including Nusrah Front, thereby sabotaging the ceasefire. The international coalition had bombarded the Syrian Armed Forces, who were positioned to fight Da’esh. While some Council members and senior officials had continued to call on the Government to support progress, he said the reality on the ground clearly demonstrated that it was the terrorist groups and their supporters that were hampering such efforts. As a result, those efforts had been undermined, showing the absence of the required political will to find a solution of those who were sponsoring the bloodbath. It was time for the Council to stop the moderate armed groups, whose actions amounted to terrorism. He asked if any member in the Chamber would have the courage to stop Nur al-Din al-Zanki, an armed group that had declared allegiance to Nusrah Front. The Syrian people’s suffering must end, and the politicization of the crisis would only prolong the crisis.
Mr. DE MISTURA, responding to one question that he called “clearly precise” and “clearly erased” by the Russian Federation’s delegate, said he was guided by resolution 2254 (2016). He had in the past witnessed refusals for active direct talks from the agency that did set preconditions. He said he did ask the Ambassador who was also the representative of the Government in Geneva if they wanted to have at that time direct talks with current delegations. “You, Mr. Ambassador did indicate that you did not want to discuss with terrorists or their representatives.” The political process could not be hostage to the security environment. During “that special day” on 9 September of long, detailed discussions with the Russian Federation and United States, he said he made a statement that said that the United Nations hoped that its implementation would facilitate renewed efforts to reach a Syrian-owned and -led arrangement. Regarding when he would send the invitation for renewed talks, he said it would be for direct talks.
Mr. JA’AFARI (Syria) said that when the Geneva II conference was held with a view to preparing for the Geneva IV conference, Jordan was tasked with determining which groups were terrorists and which were not, and Saudi Arabia with who pertained to the opposition and who did not. Yet, neither Jordan nor Saudi Arabia had prepared such a definition. Terrorists were invited to the Geneva conference, but they were excluded afterwards because everyone found out they were terrorists. “Syrians went to Geneva and would return to Geneva to engage in an inter-Syrian dialogue, not an inter-terrorist dialogue,” he said. The Special Envoy had to gather that information. His Government was not prepared to negotiate with terrorists; it would only negotiate with one united opposition that truly desired a Syria without any external interference. “The Syrian Government is prepared to return to Geneva and to resume the dialogue, but not with the deaf, the mute, nor the blind. We want to resume the dialogue with nationals like us who don’t have an external agenda and engage with Governments that use them in cheap tricks.”