Turkey’s Military Operation Has Displaced Thousands of Civilians, Worsened Syria’s Dire Humanitarian Crisis, Top Official Warns Security Council
Rejecting Claims Cross-Border Action Only Targets Terrorists, Syria’s Permanent Representative Says Turkey Using Self-Defence Right to Occupy Sovereign Territory
The recent escalation of hostilities in north‑east Syria — following a Turkish military operation launched on 9 October — has exacerbated the safety and well‑being of the area’s 3 million residents, a top United Nations humanitarian official warned the Security Council today, adding that nearly 180,000 people have fled that border region in just two weeks.
“The latest surge in hostilities in north‑east Syria compounds an already dire humanitarian situation,” said Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, as she voiced concern about the rapidly unfolding situation on the ground. Calling for safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access to all those in need, she said the military operation by the Turkish Armed Forces and allied non‑State armed groups has led to a humanitarian emergency much larger than had been anticipated.
Of the 3 million people living in north‑east Syria, 1.8 million were already dependent on aid even before recent developments, she said. While humanitarian actors continue to deliver aid despite serious challenges on the ground, some groups have had to temporarily limit or suspend their operations due to the deteriorating security situation. “As the situation evolves, a critical challenge […] is the need to scale up operations from within Syria,” she said.
Mohamed Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary‑General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, also voiced his concerns about the humanitarian impacts of Turkey’s “Operation Peace Spring”. While violence has now subsided, the situation remains in flux, with many civilians in the north‑east fearing further displacement, disruption of humanitarian access or the return of Government forces. It is crucial that the Council and Member States protect civilians, including captured fighters, and ensure full and unimpeded humanitarian access. He also called for decisive action to consolidate the ceasefires in the north‑east and north‑west, along with efforts to ensure that Syria’s political negotiations track remains on course.
Agnès Marcaillou, Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service, briefed Council members on the current state of explosive contamination in Syria, whose full extent is not yet known. Preliminary findings for 2019 indicate that over 2,500 communities and 11.5 million people are affected, a dramatic increase from the previous year’s figures, she said, describing the impact on communities — and their already weakened and struggling health sector — as devastating. Outlining response efforts by the Mine Action Service, she said it has so far trained 70 risk education facilitators in 2019, who have been deployed to some 60 communities in rural Damascus.
As Council members took the floor, several also noted their grave concerns about both the current and the potential repercussions of Turkey’s military operation.
The representative of China said he agreed with the aim of rooting out terrorists as a precondition for peace and stability in Syria but noted that “Operation Peace Spring” could negatively impact the country’s political situation. Underlining the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, he reiterated his country’s long‑standing position against the use of force and urged the international community to guard against an opportunistic resurgence of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).
The United States’ representative called attention to his country’s lifting of sanctions on Turkey following the ceasefire agreement reached for north‑east Syria. Nevertheless, he urged Ankara to abide by principles of civilian protection and not facilitate a resurgence of ISIL/Da’esh. Turkey is also responsible if its troops or allied entities have targeted civilians, he said, stressing that such actions could be war crimes and any allegations must be investigated, he warned.
The representative of the Russian Federation, striking a different tone, pointed to the newly signed Memorandum of Understanding between his country and Turkey, which aims to stabilize the situation in north‑east Syria. That agreement will allow Syria to uphold its own national security following the end of an illegal occupation of the area, he said, cautioning against distinguishing “good” terrorists from “bad” ones or providing some with material support. Meanwhile, he warned that the situation in the north‑west will only worsen if terrorists are allowed to maintain control.
Responding to Council members’ concerns, Turkey’s representative remarked: “We are all entitled to our own views, but we are not entitled to our own facts.” Operation Peace Spring was a limited cross‑border intervention intended to fight terror organizations. It aimed to eliminate the long‑standing existential terror threat, enforce Syria’s unity and territorial integrity, protect the local population and create the conditions conducive to voluntary, safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees. Stressing that the Operation was conducted in full respect for international law — targeting only terrorists and terrorist hideouts, weapons and vehicles — he outlined plans for the border region, declaring: “Our common efforts have prevented the establishment of a terror state in northern Syria.”
Syria’s representative, rejecting those claims, said Turkey has started a new round of aggression against the territorial integrity of his country, leading to the occupation of territory, deaths of hundreds, displacement of hundreds of thousands and great destruction. That country’s citing of an Article in the Charter of the United Nations enabling self‑defence cannot be used to invade another country. Despite their condemnations, European and other countries that supported secessionists and terrorists in the north‑east of his country are also not absolved from responsibility. Improving Syria’s humanitarian situation requires the withdrawal of all uninvited foreign forces, he stressed, while calling for the lifting of all unilateral coercive forces and support for Syrian efforts to aid its people.
South Africa’s representative, who holds the Council Presidency for October, spoke in his national capacity, expressing regret that the Council was unable to adopt a resolution addressing Syria’s dire humanitarian situation in September. “This lack of Council unity is not the message we want to convey to the Syrian men, women and children who have lost their lives, sustained severe injuries and endured multiple displacements due to the dismal conditions,” he said, adding: “At the very least, we should be able to agree on humanitarian assistance.” Stressing that Syria’s political track is at a delicate stage — with a glimmer of hope emerging from the launch of its Constitutional Committee — he urged Council members to rally around a common position in support of that process.
Also speaking were representatives of Kuwait (also for Belgium and Germany), France, Dominican Republic, Peru, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Germany, Poland, United Kingdom and Equatorial Guinea.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 5:43 p.m.
URSULA MUELLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, outlined the significant changes in Syria since her last briefing in September. Expressing concern about the rapidly unfolding situation in the north‑east of the country, she cited the Secretary‑General, who stressed that civilians and civilian infrastructure must be protected. Safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access must be allowed so that the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations can carry out their critical work. Since the beginning of military operations by the Turkish Armed Forces and allied non‑State armed groups earlier this month, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has received concerning reports of civilian casualties and damage to critical civilian infrastructure.
The military operation led to a humanitarian emergency much larger than had been anticipated, she continued, adding that the Government of Turkey has provided assurances that every effort is being made to ensure civilians and civilian infrastructure are protected. The hostilities have triggered large population movements. In the last two weeks, almost 180,000 people including some 80,000 children have fled south from the border area between Turkey and Syria. Most fleeing civilians are sheltering with friends and families, while others are in displacement camps or collective shelters. More than 10,000 people have fled to Iraq since the beginning of the recent operation.
“The latest surge in hostilities in north‑east Syria compounds an already dire humanitarian situation,” she stated. Of the 3 million people living in the north‑east, 1.8 million were already in need of some form of humanitarian assistance even before recent developments and 710,000 were displaced. Prior to the escalation, the United Nations and its partners were reaching an average of 1.25 million people with assistance every month. Humanitarian actors continue to deliver aid despite serious challenges on the ground, including hostilities and an unpredictable security environment. Some groups have had to temporarily limit or suspend their operations due to the deteriorating security situation resulting from new parties gaining control of areas where they operate. National staff continues their work, but their capacity is stretched.
Outlining United Nations efforts to scale up the delivery of food and medical aid, she said a technical team working alongside the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and local water and electrical departments recently accessed the Allouk water station, restoring water flow to some 400,000 people across Al‑Hassakeh. They also restored electricity in Rad al‑Ain. “As the situation evolves, a critical challenge facing humanitarian actors is the need to scale up operations from within Syria,” she said, calling on all parties to facilitate safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian assistance via land and air routes. The Syria Humanitarian Fund, supported by 16 donors, is planning a $15 million allocation for the north‑east of the country.
In the north‑west, about 3 million people are living in difficult conditions in the Idlib de‑escalation area and about 2.1 million people depend on humanitarian assistance, she said. About 1.6 million people there were displaced, many having been forced to flee multiple times in search of safety. While hostilities in the areas have subsided following the announcement of a ceasefire on 30 August, worrying signs of insecurity — including an uptick in hostilities — remain. She expressed concern about the impact of such fighting on civilians, adding that most of the displaced people sheltering in camps and informal sites in Idlib and Aleppo Governorates are in densely populated areas close to the Turkish border. Humanitarian organizations have scaled up cross‑border operations from Turkey to meet rising needs in Idlib, with food aid having nearly doubled in 2019.
Recalling that the Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, visited the border region between Syria and Turkey earlier in October, she underscored that if the United Nations was to halt its cross‑border aid deliveries — authorized by the Security Council — civilian suffering and more displacement would follow. It is therefore crucial to extend Security Council resolution 2165 (2014) for another year. Regarding the still‑critical situation in Rukban — located on the Syrian‑Jordanian border — she described aid delivery missions by the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, adding that many in the camp continue to request support to leave. Since late March, more than 18,000 people have left Rukban; still, thousands remain. The overall 2019 humanitarian appeal for Syria is currently funded at 45 per cent, or $1.48 billion, and donors have been generous. Nonetheless, more support is urgently needed, she stressed, adding that “without it, partners will not be able to […] respond to new and existing demands”.
MOHAMED KHALED KHIARI, Assistant Secretary‑General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, said he is concerned about the humanitarian impact resulting from “Operation Peace Spring” which Turkey and allied Syrian opposition groups began on 9 October. While violence has subsided since 20 October — when the Syrian Democratic Forces withdrew from Ras al‑Ayn — the situation remains in flux. Many civilians in north‑east Syria fear further displacement from major cities and towns, disruption of humanitarian access or the return of Government forces, which may lead to arbitrary detention, violent political retribution and conscription. It is crucial that civilians, including captured fighters, be protected under international human rights and international humanitarian law. It is also crucial that the Council and Member States protect civilians and their infrastructure to ensure full and unimpeded humanitarian access as well as resolution of security concerns through peaceful means.
He called on the international community to provide strengthened support to Syria’s neighbouring countries in shouldering the refugee burden. As well, refugee returns must be voluntary, safe, dignified and well informed. Highlighting the situation in Al‑Hol and Roj camps in north‑east Syria, he said 70,000 civilians — more than 95 per cent of them women and children — are currently sheltered there. Most have been exposed to violence and trauma under Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and now face a range of challenges and uncertainties. These include being denied repatriation, rehabilitation, reintegration and a fair trial. Member States must take all measures necessary to ensure their nationals are repatriated for the purpose of prosecution, rehabilitation and/or reintegration in line with international law.
Turning to the greater Idlib area, he said air strikes are reported to have increased since 12 October, following a marked reduction after the ceasefire in late August. There have also been reports of helicopter attacks and the use of barrel bombs. All parties — especially Turkey and the Russian Federation as guarantors of the de‑escalation agreement — must press all actors to the full implementation of the September 2018 Memorandum of Understanding. Any large‑scale military offensive in Idlib would come at an unacceptable cost in terms of loss of human lives and suffering. “What is most urgently needed now is decisive action for a consolidation of ceasefires in north‑east and north‑west Syria, protection of civilians throughout the country and full support to ensure that the political track remains on course,” he said.
AGNÈS MARCAILLOU, Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service, said that while the full scale of explosive contamination of Syria is not known, preliminary findings for the year indicate that 2,563 communities and 11.5 million people are affected, a dramatic increase from the previous year’s figures. Approximately 184 incidents per day have been recorded, with an average 1.5 people killed, 2 injured and 1 in 3 survivors suffering at least one limb amputation per incident. “The impact of explosive hazards on communities is immediate and devastating,” she said. It also puts increasing pressure on an already weakened and struggling health sector, as well as disproportionately harms women, children, the rural poor and the displaced.
The United Nations Mine Action Service has been supporting the humanitarian mine sector in Syria since 2016 and had prepared situation‑specific gender and age‑tailored awareness material in January. At that point, it expanded its operations with the objective of reducing the impact of explosive hazards on civilians through coordination and training. Since January, the Mine Action Service has trained 70 risk education facilitators who have been deployed to some 60 communities in rural Damascus. Risk education activities started this month in Hama Governorate. Training of trainers and staff in United Nations outposts and agencies will further expand services. A one‑month awareness campaign on social media, in addition, included over 55 million short risk‑awareness messages.
The launch of the Mine Action subsector on 9 October, comprising humanitarian civil society and United Nations actors, provides further coordination, she said. Through collective efforts, some 365 communities in north‑west Syria have been surveyed with hazardous items marked. In addition, educational materials were distributed and some 3,800 survivors of explosive hazards received assistance. In north‑east Syria, the Service provided standardized risk‑awareness materials to be distributed as part of the ongoing emergency humanitarian response. However, recent military developments have halted all humanitarian mine action in the area, she pointed out, adding that it is crucial to resume that work. She also described the Mine Action Service’s work with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to integrate mine action into national returnees’ response plans.
The Government of Syria has agreed that the Mine Action Service should now consider reinforcing its activities under the country’s Humanitarian Response Plan with the assistance of international mine action operators to be registered by the Government, she said. The Mine Action Service would accredit, coordinate and assess their work. In that light, she underlined that the Response Plan and the related needs overview will continue to frame Mine Action Service activities, along with the principles of impartiality, neutrality, independence and humanity.
BADER A. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait), also speaking for Germany and Belgium as co‑sponsors of humanitarian‑related resolutions on Syria, cited deterioration of the already dire humanitarian situation, including dispersing terrorists, reports of civilian casualties and displacement of over 180,000 people, including 80,000 children. “For many of those fleeing, this is not the first time they have been displaced,” he said. While the north‑west, specifically Idlib Governorate, has seen a decrease of air strikes, there has been an uptick in civilian casualties in recent days. He reminded all parties of obligations to protect civilians and infrastructure, which are not absolved under counter‑terrorism operations. He also expressed concern over unexploded ordnance and landmines, recalling that humanitarian demining must respect humanitarian principles. Cross‑border operations renewed under Security Council resolution 2449 (2018) have been a lifeline for millions of people in Syria, representing almost 40 per cent of humanitarian assistance. However, the situation remains concerning in other areas, including at Al‑Hol camp where 95 per cent of the 68,000 residents are women and children and 55 per cent of that population are under age 12. Stating the conflict has witnessed some of the most egregious violations of international humanitarian law, he underscored the importance of accountability and expressed support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.
Mr. BARKIN (United States) noted that his country has lifted sanctions on Turkey in response to the ceasefire in the north‑east of Syria. Unfortunately, that has not ended the displacement. He said he hopes that the ceasefire will be respected, saving lives and contributing to stability in the region. Turkey must also abide by principles of civilian protection and not facilitate a resurgence of ISIL/Da’esh. In addition, Turkey is also responsible if its troops or allied entities have targeted civilians; such actions could be war crimes and any allegations must be investigated, he warned. In regard to north‑west Syria, he called on the Assad regime to cease operations in Idlib and support the ceasefire negotiated with Turkey. Attacks on hospitals and other infrastructure must cease and humanitarian access guaranteed. Noting that the United States remains the largest humanitarian donor, he urged others to contribute, adding that he hopes the launch of the Constitutional Committee will start a real peace process. Now, more than ever, it is critical for that process to move forward.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the signing between his country and Turkey of a Memorandum of Understanding on 22 October concerning north‑east Syria aimed to stabilize the situation. His country’s Iranian and Syrian partners welcomed the agreement, as it will allow Syria to uphold its own national security, following the end of the illegal occupation of the area and “the perilous engineering experiment that meant to pit the Kurdish and Arab populations against each other”. It is impossible to address Kurdish self‑determination without first resolving the Syrian conflict. Russian police have already arrived in the 10‑kilometre zone and will begin to patrol with Turkey. Counter‑terrorism operations will continue. He also cautioned against separating terrorists into good and bad ones, or providing some with material support or portraying them as moderate radicals. “Such attempts have been made in Idlib and we will stamp them out,” he said, stressing that the situation in the north‑west will only worsen if terrorists are allowed to maintain control. Noting his support for the launch of the Constitutional Committee as part of a political resolution, he said that it is past time to consider transferring all illegally held territory to the Syrian authority. He highlighted Russian assistance in mine clearance to improve the humanitarian situation for returnees and others and invited all to join those and other efforts to improve the situation, including the lifting of unilateral sanctions.
NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France) reiterated his condemnation of Turkey’s military operation, adding that his country will uphold its provision of assistance as much as possible, having released additional funds for that purpose. He called for the situation begun by the Turkish incursion to be resolved through dialogue. Critical consideration includes the fight against terrorism, aid to civilians and respect for international law. Expressing concern over violence in Idlib, he stressed that fighting terrorism does not absolve any parties from international law. In addition, humanitarian access to all of Syrian soil must be guaranteed. The Council must be united in that effort by renewing authorization of cross‑border delivery and Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) must be implemented in full. The meeting of the Constitutional Committee is critical, but progress must also be made in creating a peaceful environment, investigating enforced disappearances and holding free elections that include those who had to flee because of the law. Without a credible transition that includes those elements, France will not contribute to reconstruction, he warned. He pledged to work tirelessly alongside other partners for peace in Syria.
Ms. MORRISON (Dominican Republic) expressed alarm over the recent escalation of violence, noting that civilians in Syria continue to bear the brunt of a humanitarian crisis “that is bringing the country to its knees”. Even against that pitiful backdrop, she underlined the resilience of the Syrian people, stressing that they “will rise again” as long as the right conditions are put in place. Emphasizing that attempts at a military solution only leave in their wake death, displacement and physical and emotional consequences, she cited a pressing need to end hostilities, which would help further galvanize Syria’s political process. Also calling for robust, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian aid delivery, she said all parties must fully abide by their obligations under international law. The dignity, security and safety of all persons must be the priority in any attempt to establish a safe zone in north‑east Syria, she stressed, warning that such an area must not serve as an open door to human rights violations, nor as an impediment to humanitarian assistance.
ZHANG JUN (China) said rooting out terrorists is a precondition for peace and stability in Syria. Turkey’s recent military operation, however, has the potential to negatively impact the political situation in the country. Reiterating China’s long‑standing position against the use of force, he said it is imperative to respect Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Expressing hope that the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding will help facilitate dialogue between the parties, he also called for accelerated humanitarian assistance; the lifting of economic sanctions; and support for refugee returns, while noting that the high number of refugees is a source of instability across the region. Meanwhile, all parties must attach the utmost importance to combating terrorism and avoid actions that could combat gains made in that arena. “We must guard against a […] resurgence of ISIL forces,” he said, calling on the international community to keep a watchful eye on the issue.
PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) welcomed steps taken by the United Nations to engage with the Turkish forces in order to ensure a lasting ceasefire. Warning that the presence of any foreign forces must be temporary and not result in a de facto division of the country, he added that the escalation in north‑east Syria should not distract from the critical mission of providing humanitarian assistance to millions in need across the country. Faced with the upswing of violence seen in the last weeks — and its devastating impact on the Syrian population — more efforts are needed to push forward Syria’s political process in line with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), including the first meeting of the Constitutional Committee slated to take place on 30 October, he said.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) said the resumption of hostilities in Idlib in April and the more recent escalation in north‑east Syria are both sources of real concern. Noting that the Turkish‑Syrian border has become an at‑risk zone, he outlined the negative impacts on civilians — including many children — and on civilian infrastructure. Welcoming the unilateral truce announced by the Russian Federation and its allied forces in Idlib in August, as well as Turkey’s decision to halt its recent military operation, he said the parties should endeavour to establish a more lasting peace. He also welcomed the pursuit of cross‑border aid deliveries, which help mitigate the risk of humanitarian disaster, and called on Council members to renew that mechanism’s mandate when it expires in January. In addition, he asked donors and other international partners to honour their pledges and scale up their support for Syria’s humanitarian appeal, which remains largely underfunded.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said the humanitarian situation in Syria remains alarming, with nearly 180,000 people displaced in the north‑east, and thousands of civilians killed since escalation of hostilities in the north‑west in late April. With humanitarian camps overcrowded and assistance overstretched, “these concerns are real and need to be addressed immediately”, he said. He called for a permanent end to hostilities with all steps taken to protect civilians, and for all parties to ensure that ceasefire agreements are enacted on the ground, not just on paper. He also stressed that parties must facilitate immediate, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to requested areas. Stating that hostilities must not disrupt progress on the political process, he noted that the launch of the Syrian‑owned and Syrian‑led Constitutional Committee remains on schedule.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said that reports about war crimes must be investigated independently and that culprits must be brought to justice. Welcoming the renewal of the ceasefire, he said the test of these agreements will be whether they lead to a lasting de‑escalation and an end to Turkey’s military offensive in north‑east Syria. Germany strongly warns against the resumption of the military offensive in and around Idlib and reiterates its call for a sustainable solution to the conflict through a political process under United Nations auspices. There can only be assistance in the reconstruction of Syria when there is a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition under way. It should not be forgotten that the root cause of the conflict is the Syrian regime’s policy of brutal violence, repression and persecution. If the regime does not change its behaviour and cease its violations of international law, Germany will keep up the pressure, he said. The country will continue to support efforts to ensure that none of the atrocities committed during the conflict go unpunished.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland), addressing Syria’s humanitarian situation after recent military operations there, said the safety of thousands of civilians, including children and humanitarian personnel, is under threat. Some 9,500 children spread across three camps in the north‑east, almost half under the age of 5 and the majority under 12, rely completely on humanitarian aid, and any interruption in camp services would put their lives at risk. Turning to the political impact, he said Poland is concerned about the political process under United Nations auspices, as the recent operation could undermine progress achieved so far by the Special Envoy. As for the security situation, he said a prolonged military escalation in north‑east Syria might contribute to further destabilization of the broader region. There are disturbing reports about escapes of ISIL/Da’esh fighters from area prisons, which undermines progress the Global Coalition has achieved and creates an environment conducive for ISIL/Da’esh’s resurgence.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said that the behaviour of the forces of the Syrian regime returning to north‑east Syria must be monitored very closely, given their practices in other areas. In regard to returnees, he insisted that those must be voluntary and in line with UNHCR principles. Any attempt at demographic change will be rejected. In addition, development assistance will not be provided in areas where civilian rights are not secured. Anticipating further information on humanitarian access in Syria, he called for the extension of the authorization of cross‑border delivery. He also expressed concern over the situation in Idlib, urging all parties to respect the ceasefire and to investigate attacks on civilian infrastructure. Stressing that the Constitutional Committee is an opportunity for Syrians to grapple with the underlying causes of the conflict, he called on regime representatives to acknowledging their role in bringing on the conflict.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) urged the United Nations and its partners to scale up its response to prevent further worsening of conditions. Recently displaced persons must be assisted as well as those who have been suffering for a long time. Hailing the negotiation of a ceasefire in the north‑east, he welcomed the memorandum between Turkey and the Russian Federation and all developments that contribute to the stabilization of the situation. He called on all to abide by the agreement, including the withdrawal of weaponry by Kurdish units. Welcoming the launch of the Constitutional Committee, he affirmed that only an inclusive process will bring about lasting peace in Syria.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, voicing deep concern about the dire humanitarian situation in Syria. He welcomed the United Nations efforts to repair the damaged water system in Allouk, which supports more than 400,000 people in the region, and called on all parties to ensure additional needed repairs to fully restore the system without delay. In September, the Security Council failed to adopt a resolution that addressed the dire humanitarian situation in Idlib. “This lack of Council unity is not the message we want to convey to the Syrian men, women and children who have lost their lives, sustained severe injuries and endured multiple displacements due to the dismal conditions,” he said, adding, “At the very least, we should be able to agree on humanitarian assistance.” Syria is at a delicate stage, with a glimmer of hope from the official launch of the Constitutional Committee. The Council must rally around a common position to assist the process. The brief elements to the press the Council adopted last week are a start, but a failure to reach consensus will mean it have failed its duty to the Syrian people. The situation must be resolved through negotiation, he said, calling on the parties to exert every effort to implement Council resolution 2254 (2015).
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), taking the floor a second time, said that fake news is being used by the deconfliction units in Idlib and picked up by the United Nations. He called for an investigation of how the Mission became prey to a shady scheme, adding that the resolution being advanced in the Council does not provide solutions but, instead, casts doubts on his country’s efforts. The Russians are not competing with anyone. They are merely working to improve the situation in Syria.
Mr. ZHANG (China) said he rejected the statement made by Germany, emphasizing it was a predisposition to misunderstand his country’s position on international law, which includes international humanitarian law. China has its own principles and positions and it is not someone else’s place to lecture or comment on them. His country’s consideration of resolutions tabled in the Council is based on his country’s positions that have been long held. China does not look to others for approval in those situations.
Mr. HEUSGEN (Germany) said that he has a predisposition to defend human rights and international law, not to criticize China. He added that the terms quoted by the Chinese representative were not said by him.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that Turkey has started a new round of aggression against the territorial integrity of his country, leading to the occupation of territory, deaths of hundreds, displacement of hundreds of thousands and great destruction. It is unfortunate that the officials speaking today did not condemn that aggression. Syria, in their statements, was not recognized as a sovereign country protected by United Nations principles. He added that the Turkish explanation of the aggression has been full of lies, including the citing of an Article in the Charter of the United Nations enabling self‑defence. That Article cannot be used to invade another country. Despite their condemnations, European and other countries that supported secessionists and terrorists in the north‑east of his country are not absolved from responsibility. Turkey would not have hosted displaced people if they could not be used to blackmail Europe. In addition, it would not have supported cross‑border action if it were not interested in smuggling. Improvement of the humanitarian situation in Syria requires the withdrawal of all uninvited foreign forces, the lifting of all unilateral coercive forces and support for Syrian efforts to aid its people. Addressing the Director of the Mine Action Service, he recalled that she had been informed that the European Union rejected assistance to demining in Syria.
FERIDUN H. SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) remarked that “we are all entitled to our own views, but we are not entitled to our own facts.” Operation Peace Spring was a limited cross‑border intervention to fight terror organizations, including PKK/PYD/YPG [Kurdish Workers Party/Democratic Union Party] and ISIL/Da’esh. While the latter’s inhumane violence is widely recognized, there is a deliberate effort to conceal or forget the truth about the former. Among other things, PKK/PYD fighters release ISIL/Da’esh terrorists, allowing them to conduct attacks in Turkey and north‑east Syria. They also expel local Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen from their own land. Those who oppose PKK/PYD/YPG extremist ideology have gone missing or are killed; the area controlled by that group has rapidly become a testing ground for a new, totalitarian terror state. Pointing out that supporting one terror organization to eliminate another has failed once again, he said Operation Peace Spring objectives are to eliminate the long‑standing existential terror threat along Turkey’s border with Syria; enforce Syria’s unity and territorial integrity; protect the local population and create the conditions conducive to voluntary, safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees to their homes.
The Operation was conducted in full respect for international law, he said, only targeting terrorists and terrorist hideouts, weapons and vehicles. All necessary measures were taken to prevent any harm to civilians. On 17 October, Turkey agreed with the United States on future joint steps to address its security concerns — including the enforcement of the safe zone by Turkish Armed Forces, the withdrawal of YPG and the recollection of its heavy weaponry. On 22 October, the United States confirmed that the withdrawal of YPG from the safe zone was complete and Turkey declared that no new operation will be needed outside the current Operation Peace Spring area. The established status quo in that area, with a depth of 32 kilometres, will be preserved. Joint patrols by Russian Federation and Turkey forces will be deployed to the west and east of the area with a depth of 10 kilometres, except for Qamishli city. YPG elements will be removed from Manbij and Tal Rifaat. A joint monitoring and verification mechanism will be established to oversee and coordinate the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding.
“Our common efforts have prevented the establishment of a terror state in northern Syria,” he continued. Now, all parties must work together on outstanding issues, including the future of detained ISIL/Da’esh terrorists. While Turkey has announced that it will take over custody, he stressed that the only sustainable solution remains the repatriation of all foreign terrorist fighters and their families by their countries of origin. Stripping people of their nationalities and dumping them is not a way to fight terror but only serves to “wash your hands off”. He also said that the first cross‑border humanitarian aid convoy from Turkey reached the area on 15 October and there is now a continuous flow of assistance. Pledging to increase such operations in light of the needs on the ground, he said a direct communication channel has been established between Ankara and the United Nations. The existing deconfliction mechanism has also been expanded to cover the north‑east of the country. Meanwhile, efforts will continue to help refugees return home to Syria, he said, reiterating that all returns will be voluntary, safe and dignified.