United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed reported announcements of warring parties in Syria agreeing to observe a ceasefire, starting on Friday, in observance of a Muslim religious holiday, the UN chief’s spokesperson said today.
“It’s important that all sides will adhere to this,” Martin Nesirky told a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York. “We all understand that there is a lack of trust between parties, and therefore we all understand that we cannot be sure yet what will transpire, but the hope is that guns will fall silent for the people of Syria, so that they have peace and quiet during this holy holiday.”
Expectations for the ceasefire had arisen over recent days, amidst reports that some of the warring parties were planning to agree to it.
According to media reports, the Syrian army announced today that it would observe the ceasefire, although it reserved the right to respond to any rebel attack or attempts to reinforce the armed opposition, elements of which have indicated that they would also back the move. Reportedly, one opposition group said it was not committed to the ceasefire but may halt operations if other rebel groups did.
While in Tehran last week, the UN and League of Arab States Joint Special Representative for the crisis in Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, had appealed to Iranian authorities to assist in achieving a ceasefire during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, underscoring that such a move – during one of the holiest holidays celebrated by Muslims around the world – would help create an environment that would allow a political process to develop. Earlier this week, Mr. Brahimi had been in the Syrian capital, Damascus, for meetings; currently, he is in Egypt.
Taking place on Friday, the religious observance of Eid al-Adha – or the Feast of the Sacrifice – commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God.
More than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 20 months ago. A further 2.5 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid, and over 340,000 have crossed the border to Syria’s neighbouring countries, according to UN estimates.
Along with his counterpart at the League of Arab States, Nabil El Araby, Secretary-General Ban had previously called on all the parties in Syria to heed Mr. Brahimi’s call, in addition to calling on the international community to support the ceasefire appeal.
In his remarks to reporters, and echoing comments made by the Security Council, as well as the UN and Arab League Secretaries-General, Mr. Nesirky also highlighted the need for international support for the ceasefire.
“Those with influence in the region, countries and parties, really need to exercise that influence on all parties so that this suspension of violence can really take place and then take hold – because, ultimately, the aim is to drive towards a ceasefire and beyond that on to a political track so that the aspirations of the Syrian people can be met,” he said.
The spokesperson also noted the need for humanitarian access. Earlier this week, various UN humanitarian agencies indicated they had pre-positioned emergency aid packages to send to people in need in Syria, should the ceasefire take place.
“Should the guns fall silent, should there be a suspension of violence, then humanitarian workers are ready to move in, convoys are ready to go, to be able to reach areas that have not been easily accessible because of the fighting,” Mr. Nesirky said. “So this would be UN humanitarian workers working with and through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.”
“A great deal of thought and planning and pre-positioning has gone into this,” he added. “We would simply fervently hope that the guns do fall silent, that there is a suspension in the violence, so that humanitarian workers can help those who are most in need.”