At a recent UN Security Council briefing on the situation in Syria, U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood delivered a stern message about the ongoing crisis in the region, criticizing the Assad regime for its increased attacks on its people and the lack of progress in the political process.
Ambassador Wood, the Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs, emphasized the dire situation facing the Syrian people as 2023 draws to a close. Despite regular discussions by the Council on political and humanitarian issues in Syria, there has been little progress. The Assad regime has continued its brutal war against its people for over 12 years, compounding the suffering caused by the devastating February earthquakes.
The Ambassador pointed to the regime’s recent intensification of attacks in northwest Syria, condemning these actions and holding the Assad regime responsible for the protracted conflict. He recalled the harrowing images and reports of chemical weapon attacks in Damascus and the violent assaults in Homs, Aleppo, and Idleb, underscoring the regime’s ongoing violence against civilians.
Wood also referred to a recent U.S.-co-facilitated General Assembly resolution on Syria’s human rights situation, highlighting the regime’s egregious abuses, including chemical weapon use, extrajudicial killings, and gender-based violence. He joined the majority of UN Member States in demanding the immediate release of all arbitrarily detained individuals and information on the missing.
Expressing alarm at the escalating violence in Idleb, Wood noted this as the worst level of violence since 2019, with civilian casualties and destruction threatening humanitarian operations during the harsh winter. He criticized the limited access provided by the UN’s arrangement with the regime through Bab Al Salaam and Al Rai crossings, stressing the need for more comprehensive and sustainable humanitarian access.
The Ambassador also highlighted ongoing discussions for renewed cross-border access through Bab Al Hawa and expressed support for Under-Secretary-Griffiths’ efforts toward a positive resolution.
Wood acknowledged the contributions of Brazil and Switzerland in focusing the Council’s work on the needs of the Syrian people and called for continued attention to this crisis.
Addressing regional concerns, Ambassador Wood condemned attacks by Iranian-aligned militia groups on U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq and Syria, reiterating the U.S.’s right to self-defence and demanding an end to these attacks.
Echoing Special Envoy Pedersen’s concerns about regional spillover, Wood emphasized the need to persevere in finding a Syrian-focused and Syrian-led solution in line with Resolution 2254, adopted over eight years ago. He urged all countries at the Council to help implement this resolution and support the Special Envoy’s efforts to advance the political process.
The Ambassador closed by acknowledging the ongoing popular protests in Suwayda, comparing them to the pro-democracy demonstrations that began in Dara’a in 2011. He reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to the Syrian people’s fight for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
UN aid official declares humanitarian crisis in Syria ‘unsustainable and insupportable’
In the same session, Ms. Lisa Doughten, Director of the Humanitarian Finance and Resource Mobilization Division, speaking on behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Martin Griffiths, delivered a stark assessment of the humanitarian situation in Syria.
Doughten noted a disturbing escalation of hostilities in northern Syria, reaching levels not seen since 2019. This uptick in violence has resulted in numerous civilian casualties and further displacement, intensifying the strain on already limited resources and infrastructure. She emphasized the need for all parties to take precautions to minimize civilian harm.
The crucial role of cross-border relief operations was highlighted, especially for the over four million people in north-west Syria reliant on this aid. The UN is seeking to extend its consent for using the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and to maintain access through the Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee crossings.
However, Doughten expressed grave concern over the severe funding shortfall for humanitarian efforts in Syria. As of the end of 2023, the Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria is only 33% funded, significantly lower than the previous year. This lack of resources has already led to drastic cuts in essential services like food assistance, pushing families into desperate coping mechanisms and increasing malnutrition among children.
With the World Food Programme announcing further reductions in food assistance, Doughten warned of a looming escalation in food insecurity, particularly among displaced populations. She stressed that the current situation is unsustainable and called for urgent progress towards peace. In the interim, she urged for enhanced efforts to protect civilians, ensure sustained humanitarian access, and secure adequate funding to sustain the life-saving humanitarian response in Syria.