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At General Assembly, Ban and UN-Arab League envoy call for greater efforts to resolve crisis in Syria

Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
UNHCR/S. Malkawi
Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

At General Assembly, Ban and UN-Arab League envoy call for greater efforts to resolve crisis in Syria

Announcing his plans to visit displaced Syrians in refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged greater efforts to help bring an end to the conflict in the Middle Eastern country as well as greater support for the envoy tasked with that mission.

“We can only succeed if all sides take the necessary steps, and if there are converging actions by the international community, in particular the Security Council,” Mr. Ban told an informal meeting of the General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York.

“If we genuinely unite behind Mr. Brahimi and behind one process, it is still possible to avert the worst and enable a Syria in peace to emerge from this crisis,” he added, referring to the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the crisis in Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi – who also briefed the Assembly today.

The conflict in Syria, which began as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad some 21 months ago, has led to the deaths of at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, forced over 460,000 people to neighbouring countries, and left more than 2.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates.

The Security Council – which Mr. Brahimi briefed on Thursday – has met several times on the situation in Syria, but has so far not reached agreement on collective action to tackle the conflict.

In his remarks, the UN chief highlighted the humanitarian aspects of the crisis, describing it as “becoming more acute,” with potentially up to four million people inside of Syria in need of aid before the New Year due to the onset of winter.

“The flow of refugees also continues, with ever more serious impact on regional security – we expect the total number of refugees to reach 700,000 by early next year,” he said.

“At the same time, the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan is only 50 per cent funded and the Regional Response Plan is only 38 per cent funded,” he continued. “We continue to ask urgently for additional funds and improved access to all those needing humanitarian assistance.”

The Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan seeks $348 million but has so far received $157 million, while the revised Regional Response Plan, launched in September, seeks $487.9 million. The former seeks to cover humanitarian relief activities inside Syria, while the latter represents the combined planning of 52 UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

The Secretary-General said he planned to soon visit refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey to assess the situation on the ground, and reiterated his view that “building a free and democratic Syria will require political dialogue and negotiations,” and that the United Nations would help facilitate such a process.

In his speech to the General Assembly, Mr. Brahimi highlighted the worsening security situation on the ground, where the “fighting has expanded geographically to almost all parts of Syria and intensified very significantly.”

He pointed to recent incidents involving peacekeepers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) as examples of the further deterioration of the security situation.

On Thursday, an UNDOF convoy was carrying troops scheduled to rotate out of Golan – where they monitor the 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war – when it came under gun fire in an area of Damascus where military operations between the Syrian armed forces and armed members of the opposition were taking place. UNDOF peacekeepers came under fire today, as well.

In addition, over the past fortnight there have been reported clashes in Golan between Syrian security forces and the opposition.

“In other words, threats to regional peace and stability are neither abstract nor something in the distant future,” Mr. Brahimi said. “Countries in the region are already bearing the burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees and, in many instances, tensions are real and mounting within parts of their respective societies between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime.”

The Joint Special Representative said that, in his opinion, there were only two alternatives for the way forward in Syria.

“Either a political process that leads to the creation of a new Syria, with a new political dispensation that puts an end to the present tragedy, satisfies the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people to dignity, freedom, democracy, social justice and equality between all its citizens and preserves the sovereignty and unity of the country,” he stated. “Or, Syria becomes a failed state with all the predictable, dire consequences for the people of Syria, for the entire region and for international peace and security.”

With nobody wanting to see Syria become a failed state, he added, the “only option everyone should opt for and work for is a negotiated political process.”

Mr. Brahimi said that the parties on the ground would have to buy into any such process, and given the breakdown in relations with many neighbouring countries, he did not think it was possible for them to put together a workable peace plan in the foreseeable future.

“We are left, therefore, with this Organisation, the United Nations, and, in particular, its Security Council,” he said. “Difficult as it has been for the Council to reach a consensus on an implementable roadmap for Syria – I nevertheless feel that it is here, and only here, that a credible, implementable process can be put together.”

He noted that many of the building blocks for a political process to end the crisis in Syria are already contained in the communiqué of the Action Group for Syria, announced in Geneva in late June.

Amongst other items, the document called for the establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers and made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups, as part of important agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition.

“For the Geneva document to be effective, its substantive parts – together with additional elements, as necessary – need to be translated into a Security Council resolution. I know that a first attempt has failed,” Mr. Brahimi said. “But that a first attempt to craft such a resolution failed does not mean it will be impossible for other attempts to succeed.”

The Action Group is made up of 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.

The Joint Special Representative also noted that any peace process must include a binding agreement on the cessation of all forms of violence, and for the fighting to stop a well-planned observation system must be put in place and “such observation can best be organized through a large, robust peacekeeping force – and, naturally, that cannot be envisaged with a Security Council resolution.”

The Security Council is responsible for determining the deployment of UN peacekeeping operation and formally authorizes such actions through the adoption of resolutions which set out the operation’s mandate and size, and details the tasks it will be responsible for performing.