The United Nations Security Council has unanimously endorsed the agreement negotiated by Russia and the United States on a cessation of hostilities in Syria – set to take effect at midnight Damascus time – which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed as “our best chance to end the brutal violence” in the country after five years of war.
Adopting a new resolution, the Council endorsed the joint statement announced on Monday by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) Ceasefire Taskforce, on the terms of a nationwide cessation of hostilities and demanded that the agreement take effect at midnight Damascus time.
In a statement issued later in the evening by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban said full implementation of the resolution – including unimpeded and sustainable humanitarian deliveries – is the best chance to reduce the brutal violence in Syria.
“What matters now are not the words of the resolution but whether it will make real changes on the ground and reduce the suffering of the Syrian people," he said, adding that implementation of the Council measure would also create space and the credibility for the UN Special Envoy for Syria to relaunch political negotiations over transition in accordance with the 2012 Geneva Communiqué and Council resolution 2254 (2015).
The Security Council also demanded the “full and immediate” implementation of that text in order to facilitate a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition in order to end the conflict in the country, stressing once again that the nation's people “will decide the future of Syria.”
Resolution 2254, unanimously adopted in December, gave the UN an enhanced role in shepherding the opposing sides to talks for a political transition, endorsing a timetable for a ceasefire, a new constitution and elections.
Briefing the Council before the vote, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said the cessation of hostilities was the result of lengthy and detailed discussions and the outcome of intense negotiations at the highest level. Speaking via videoconference from Geneva, he added that it was a “major achievement.”
Much work for the implementation of the agreement lay ahead, he continued, stressing that Saturday would be a critical day and warning that there would be no shortage of attempts to undermine the process under way. The international community must work fast to address any incidents that may arise, while all parties must demonstrate restraint.
"We are now at a crossroads – we have the possibility to turn the page [in Syria] – after almost 5 years of one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent years. It is potentially, a historic junction – to bring an end to the killing and destruction and to start a new life and new hope for the Syrians," he told the Council.
Mr. de Mistura announced that, provided the cessation of hostilities held and humanitarian access was kept open, he intended to reconvene the intra-Syrian talks with with representatives of the Syrian Government and opposition, in Geneva on Monday, 7 March.
The Special Envoy had been mediating those talks, but just two days after their official launch called for a pause on 3 February following differences between Government and opposition delegations on the priority of humanitarian issues.
In today's text, the Council also demanded that all parties involved in the cessation of hostilities fulfil their commitments, and urged all Member States, especially ISSG members – the Arab League, the European Union, the United Nations, and 17 countries, including the United States and Russia, who have been seeking a path forward for several months – to use their influence with the parties to ensure fulfilment of those commitments and support efforts “to create conditions for a durable and lasting ceasefire.”
The Council also reiterated its call to the parties to immediately allow humanitarian agencies “rapid, safe and unhindered access” throughout Syria by most direct routes, and to immediately comply with their obligations under international law.
Expressing support for the ISSG initiative to accelerate the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid, with the view towards “full, sustained and unimpeded” access throughout the country, the Council also reaffirmed its support for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the UN.
In the resolution, the Council also welcomed the cessation of hostilities as a “step towards a lasting ceasefire,” reaffirming the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process, and that both initiatives should move ahead “expeditiously” as expressed in resolution 2254.