Tomorrow (27 September), Council members will be briefed by the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and the newly appointed Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock. The meeting will be followed by consultations.
De Mistura is expected to brief the Council on his plans to convene a new round of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. In particular, he is expected to discuss the efforts of opposition groups (the High Negotiations Committee and the Moscow and Cairo platforms) to develop common negotiating positions and progress towards forming a single delegation. Briefing the Council on 30 August, he warned that the government had sent strong public signals that indicate an exclusively military approach and a dismissal of the prospects for any meaningful political negotiation. De Mistura is likely to call upon those with influence over the parties to ensure that they are able to develop constructive, realistic and substantive proposals ahead of the next round of talks. Some Council members may want to share relevant information after Syria-related meetings last week during the high-level segment of the General Assembly.
Lowcock is expected to brief Council members on the Secretary-General’s 21 September report on the humanitarian situation in Syria. According to this report, the trend toward ceasefire agreements and the establishment of de-escalation areas has contributed to a notable reduction in civilian casualties in areas where agreements have been put into effect, although with varying degrees of adherence by the parties. However, violence against civilians persists. Military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor continue to have a major impact on civilian populations. The offensive by the government and its allies on ISIL-held areas in eastern Hama has recently intensified. According to the report, cross-border activities have been a vital part of the humanitarian response in Syria since the adoption of resolution 2165 in July 2014 (the current authorisation comes up for renewal in January 2018).
Lowcock is expected to emphasise the longstanding difficulties in ensuring humanitarian access. The difficult security situation, administrative impediments, deliberate restrictions, and the removal of items from convoys continue to hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid, particularly to besieged and hard-to-reach locations. Lowcock will also likely update the Council on the number of besieged and hard-to-reach locations, given that a comprehensive review was conducted on this issue in August by the UN, and following developments on the ground such as the Syrian government’s breaking of the siege in Deir ez-Zor earlier this month.
Council members are also expected to discuss the agreement of Iran, Russia and Turkey to the delineation and monitoring mechanism for a de-escalation zone in the north-eastern region of Idlib earlier this month. They are likely to ask questions regarding the details of its operationalisation, particularly given the challenges related to separating armed groups protected by the 30 December 2016 ceasefire agreement and other groups affiliated with Council-listed terrorist organisations, such as Jabhat Fath al-Sham. Council members may also be interested in progress in the negotiations regarding the establishment of another de-escalation area near Afrin. Special Envoy de Mistura has repeatedly emphasised the need to ensure that the de-escalation areas are a temporary measure and highlighted the importance of preserving the national unity and territorial integrity of Syria. Some Council members are also expected to stress how internationally supported reconstruction efforts can only begin following a political settlement to the conflict.
Russia may brief Council members in consultations on a draft resolution it has circulated among the permanent members to endorse the outcome of the talks in Astana. While all Council members welcome the reduction of violence and there is now more information on this process since Russia circulated a similar draft in May, some Council members are still likely to raise questions regarding the scope and limitations of the Astana process.