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Syria: Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation

Tomorrow (30 January), Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller is expected to brief the Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The briefing will be followed by consultations.

Mueller is expected to provide further information on the five areas that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock outlined as requiring progress, following his first visit to Syria in early January. She will also detail efforts to deliver humanitarian aid in December 2017, described in the 23 January report of the Secretary-General (S/2018/60).

Lowcock briefed Council members on his visit under “any other business” on 22 January. At the meeting, he emphasised five areas where progress is needed, as he had conveyed to the Syrian government during the visit:

• finalising the UN humanitarian response plan for 2018 to meet the needs of more than 13 million people in Syria;

• reaching an agreement to allow for medical evacuation for hundreds of people trapped in Eastern Ghouta;

• ensuring consistent and regular cross-line access;

• agreeing on UN-supported aid convoys from Damascus to the remote area of Rukban (the Berm) in south-eastern Syria; and

• developing more effective arrangements to allow the UN to support the work of Syrian and international NGOs.

At the time of this writing, Council members were negotiating a draft presidential statement, circulated by Kuwait and Sweden, calling for progress on these five areas. It is unclear whether agreement will be reached by tomorrow.

Among the issues that Mueller is expected to raise is the limited access to besieged areas. While two UN inter-agency cross-line convoys were deployed in December, neither convoy reached besieged areas. So far, no inter-agency convoy has reached hard-to-reach or besieged areas in January. In addition to bureaucratic challenges and security considerations, inter-agency convoys continue to suffer from the removal and delisting of medical supplies by the Syrian government. In December, 5,800 treatments were either removed from convoys or not allowed to be loaded in December, bringing the total number of treatments removed or not permitted to be loaded to more than 645,000 in 2017.

The situation in Eastern Ghouta is also expected to be discussed, since 94 percent of the total besieged population in Syria currently resides there. Of particular interest to Council members will be the current status of some 600 people who remain in need of urgent medical evacuation. Mueller will most likely discuss the recent displacement of civilians from Idlib and Hama, following an air campaign conducted by the Syrian government. The impact of the offensive on civilians has been aggravated by the fact that most of the people in need were already internally displaced before the recent escalation in violence.

While the P3 and like-minded countries have emphasised the gravity of the situation in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta, which are designated as “de-escalation areas” but where civilians are regularly targeted, Russia has repeatedly expressed concerns over the humanitarian situation in Raqqa. On 9 January, Mueller briefed Council members under “any other business.” The briefing had been requested by Russia to call for the US-led coalition involved in liberating the city from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to play a role in its reconstruction. The Secretary-General’s report emphasises how the high prevalence of landmines, booby traps and explosive remnants of war has resulted in the death or injury of 220 civilians since the city was liberated in October 2017.

Mueller may also brief Council members on the humanitarian impact of the “Operation Olive Branch” launched by Turkey on 20 January. The military offensive targets the territory of Afrin, held by a Kurdish militia that is part of the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and that Turkey considers a terrorist organisation. Mueller may discuss the impact on civilians of the military escalation, especially considering the concentration of civilians in Afrin, and the displacement flows observed on the ground. Furthermore, Mueller is likely to brief Council members on the impact of shelling from Syria to Turkey on UN cross-border operations.

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