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Syria: Briefing on the Implementation of Resolution 2401 and Arria-Formula Meeting

On Monday (12 March), the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing from Secretary-General António Guterres on the implementation of resolution 2401, as called for by this resolution within fifteen days of its adoption. Later that day, Council members will also hold an Arria-formula meeting on this issue.

15-Day Report on Resolution 2401

Resolution 2401, which was drafted by Kuwait and Sweden, demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay and engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand for a durable humanitarian pause of at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria. Since the resolution was adopted unanimously on 24 February, Council members have been briefed on two occasions by OCHA and the Department of Political Affairs on challenges to its implementation and UN efforts to overcome them. In a 4 March statement, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Panos Moumtzis, stated that “[i]nstead of a much needed reprieve, we continue to see more fighting, more death, and more disturbing reports of hunger and hospitals being bombed. This collective punishment of civilians is simply unacceptable.” Guterres is expected to highlight the continuation of hostilities, particularly in the besieged area of Eastern Ghouta, home to almost 400,000 civilians, where a government offensive has persisted, as well as shelling into Damascus.

Resolution 2401 also demands that, immediately after the start of the cessation of hostilities, all parties allow safe, unimpeded and sustained access each week to the humanitarian convoys of the UN and its implementing partners, including to hard-to-reach and besieged locations. However, Council members were briefed by OCHA’s Lisa Doughton on 7 March on how insecurity prevented the complete offloading of a convoy by the UN, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC on 5 March. Some of the critical humanitarian supplies that could not be delivered then were unloaded in Eastern Ghouta earlier today, despite renewed shelling which was in breach of “assurances of safety from parties, including the Russian Federation”, according to the Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, Ali al-Za'tari.

According to the resolution, the UN and its implementing partners are to be allowed to undertake safe, unconditional medical evacuations, based on medical need and urgency. However, no medical evacuations have taken place since the resolution’s adoption. The government continues to remove medical supplies from humanitarian convoys, preventing treatment. According to the World Health Organization, during February, in Eastern Ghouta alone, there were 28 incidents of violence against health care: 14 on hospitals, 11 on health centers, two on ambulance stations and one on a medical warehouse.

Most Council members are expected to emphasize the need to immediately implement resolution 2401 and to call on those with influence on the government to redouble their efforts to ensure compliance. In the past, Russia has stressed the need for actors on the ground to agree to the cessation of hostilities and has justified Syria’s counter-terrorism efforts in Eastern Ghouta. An initiative by Russia to establish daily 5-hour humanitarian pauses in Eastern Ghouta has not stopped violence and has not been considered sufficient by OCHA to address urgent humanitarian needs.

Staffan de Mistura briefed Council members in consultations on 7 March on his efforts to facilitate a dialogue between armed groups and Russia. Three armed groups present in Eastern Ghouta (Jaish al-Islam, Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham) have expressed their commitment to implement 2401 and have offered to fight against Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the latest iteration of Al-Nusra Front. The UN, he said, has no evidence that the three groups in Eastern Ghouta cooperated with with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, including by establishing a coordination cell with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, despite accusations to the contrary. Most Council members are expected to reiterate tomorrow the importance of separating armed groups from terrorist groups in Eastern Ghouta and beyond in order to effectively implement resolution 2401. Since Iran, Russia and Turkey are planning to hold a meeting in Astana next week, Council members are expected to encourage these guarantors of the “de-escalation areas” to do all in their power to support the cessation of hostilities.

While the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta is likely to be the focus of the briefing on Monday, Guterres is also expected to highlight several other key concerns: the ongoing fighting in Idlib, which has resulted in 385,000 people displaced, many of them multiple times; the impact on civilians of the ongoing military offensive of Turkey in Afrin and the blockage of exit by local authorities; and the critical situation of tens of thousands of civilians stranded in Rukban, given the lack of sustained humanitarian access through Damascus.

Arria-Formula Meeting

On Monday afternoon (12 March), Council members are expected to hold an Arria-formula meeting on “Implementing Syria’s Cessation of Hostilities: Syria’s Opposition Speaks”. The meeting will be hosted by the UK, the Netherlands, Poland and France. According to an invitation circulated ahead of the meeting, its objective is to draw attention to the urgent need for full implementation of 2401 and the ongoing siege in Eastern Ghouta through an informal dialogue with members of the Syrian opposition and civilians on the ground. Two members of the Syria Negotiation Commission (Hadi al Bahra and Fadwa Mahmoud) and a resident of Eastern Ghouta, speaking through video-link, are expected to brief Council members.