Brief ceasefire only piece of good news for Syrians: UN envoy

KARACHI: The United Nations mediator for the Syrian conflict told the Security Council on Friday that its three-week old demand for a ceasefire across the war-ravaged country was still not being implemented, and while progress had been made in in Douma in Eastern Ghouta, “the bottom line is, too many civilians are still suffering.”

“Let us hope that this ceasefire holds, because it is at least one [piece of] good news among very bad news,” said Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy for Syria, briefing the Security Council via videoconference from Brussels. The UN envoy said that Russia and Jaish al-Islam held more meetings in the last few days, on the outskirts of Douma – the northernmost of the three opposition-controlled enclaves in Eastern Ghouta.

“As a result of this engagement, a tenuous, fragile ceasefire between the Government, the Russian military and Jaish al Islam forces has continued to largely hold, for six days now,” he said, noting however that this is only one part of Eastern Ghouta, and it is not being replicated in the rest of that area.

Meanwhile, violence has escalated across other parts of Syria, he said. In Afrin, for example, the Turkish Government forces and their armed allies continued to gain ground rapidly. There had also been clashes in Daraa in southern Syria. On 13 March, 137 civilians had been evacuated, including 10 critical medical cases, and mostly women and children had been taken from Duma to the collective shelter in rural Damascus.

On 15 March, UN colleagues had delivered a convoy of food assistance for 26,100 people in need in Duma. Those positive efforts were long overdue, but limited, he said. Elsewhere, there had been fresh allegations of the use of incendiary weapons in urban areas, as well as the targeting of medical facilities. There have also been allegations of chlorine use, he said.

He also expressed concern regarding those civilians in Syria who were being displaced and those who were in besieged and hard to reach areas. “Security Council resolution 2401 (2018) demands that all parties lifted sieges in highly populated areas, and that has not been done,” said Mr. de Mistura, also noting that Syria’s women faced threats to their security, including widespread sexual and gender based violence. “Their protection should be at the forefront of our own response,” he underscored.

“We are witnessing developments of substantial gravity on the ground […] that demand action, and the world is worried and watching,” he told the Council, expressing concern that issues including those raised in resolution 2401, as well as regarding detainees and a constitutional committee – need to move faster and with more meaningful impact than has so far proven possible. “And de-escalation needs to replace what we are watching at the moment – escalation,” he said, pledging to continue working determinedly to seek to facilitate the overall political process.