Warning that Syria’s current path of violence will lead the country “to its destruction,” the United Nations political affairs chief said today there was an urgent need to “shift away” from the military logic driving the conflict, and move towards a political process.
“It has to be a Syrian-led process; it can’t be imposed,” the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York after he briefed a closed meeting of the UN Security Council on the situation in the war-torn Middle Eastern country.
“It must bring real change and a clean break from the past,” he added.
With that goal in mind, Mr. Feltman said that the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the crisis in Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was working with “great urgency.”
Mr. Brahimi, he continued, was taking pains to ensure that the groundwork would be sufficiently solid so that an eventual peace plan had a real chance of success.
Syria has been wracked by violence, with at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 20 months ago. The violence has spawned more than 380,000 refugees, while more than 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates.
As part of his efforts to halt the violence in Syria, Mr. Brahimi has had a range of meetings on the matter, both regional and elsewhere. Earlier this week, in Cairo, he met with Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil El-Araby. Last week, he held meetings in Moscow and Beijing.
“Political efforts are going on with great urgency,” Mr. Feltman said. “But also with great care.”
A failed ceasefire bid, new reports of atrocities, an increase in the number of car bombings and a still-dire humanitarian situation mark some of the highlights since Mr. Brahimi’s briefing of the Council two weeks ago, the political affairs chief noted in his comments.
“The situation inside Syria is turning grimmer every day,” he told reporters, adding there was a growing risk the crisis could “explode outward into an already volatile region.”
“We might, in fact, already be seeing signs of this spillover,” he said, referring to Syria-related violence that has occurred in Turkey and Lebanon, and what he called “activities” in the Golan, an area sandwiched between Syria and Israel, where the peacekeeping mission known as the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) monitors the 1974 disengagement agreement keeping Israeli and Syrian forces apart.
“We don’t think the fighting is directed at undermining the disengagement of forces agreement per se,” Mr. Feltman said in response to a question on the situation in Golan. “It is the Syrian-on-Syrian fighting. But, nevertheless, we are quite concerned about what the impact could be if there is not an immediate return to full compliance with that disengagement of forces agreement.”
Mr. Feltman flagged how Joint Special Representative Brahimi saw a June communiqué by the UN-backed Action Group on Syria as still providing an “important building block” for an eventual peace.
The Action Group is made up the Secretaries-General of the UN and the Arab League; the Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – as well as the Turkish Foreign Minister; the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; and the Foreign Ministers of Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, in their respective roles related to the Arab League.
At a meeting in Geneva in June, the Group had agreed on a set of principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led transition that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people. Among other proposed measures, the communiqué issued after the meeting called on all parties to immediately re-commit to a sustained cessation of armed violence in a bid to end the conflict, in addition to the establishment of a transitional governing body that would exercise full executive powers and would be made up of members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups.
In response to another question from a reporter, Mr. Feltman said Mr. Brahimi “welcomed” a four-point plan proposed by China, a veto-bearing permanent member of the UN Security Council. Media reports say the plan includes calls for humanitarian aid for refugees and a ceasefire that would be carried out “by district and in stages.”
“He is welcoming all contributions to his thinking, in particular, the contributions that those states with real influence in this organization, and with real influence on the ground in Syria have,” the Under-Secretary-General said.
The 15-member Security Council has met several times on the situation in Syria, but has so far failed to reach agreement on collective and effective action to tackle the crisis.
“We continue to hope that the Security Council can come together and act in a unified fashion on Syria, as this would be critical to any peace effort,” he added. “Without this, our chances for success are far more limited.”
Mr. Feltman’s briefing to the Security Council came as the UN reported sporadic firefights between the Syrian security forces and armed members of the opposition in Golan’s so-called “area of separation,” which serves as a buffer zone between Israeli and Syrian forces under the 1974 agreement.
“The presence of military personnel in the military operations in the area of separation… has the potential to escalate tensions between Israel and Syria and jeopardizes the ceasefire between the two countries and the stability of the region,” a UN spokesperson told a news briefing today.
Meanwhile, with an eye on the humanitarian crisis provoked by the Syrian conflict, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced the launch of a television ad campaign aimed at raising awareness of the “most vulnerable civilians in Syria,” including 500,000 Palestine refugees.
The ad campaign is being aired on television channels in the region, and will be extended elsewhere, to countries including the United States and Spain.
Established by the General Assembly in 1949, UNRWA is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some five million registered Palestinian refugees in various countries throughout the Middle East. Its services include education, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, health care and emergency assistance.