Escalation in Syria fighting cause for ‘great concern’ says UN chief, dozens more civilians dead or injured

UN chief António Guterres has said that he’s following “with great concern” intensifying clashes in north-western Syria that have claimed yet more civilian lives and displaced thousands in recent days.

UNICEF/WatadChildren and their families living in a makeshift camp in a hard-to-reach area in western rural Aleppo, Syria.

The Secretary-General’s comments come amid reports of aerial attacks on population centers and civilian buildings within a demilitarized zone that has been guaranteed since last September by Russia and Turkey, in southern rural Idlib and northern rural Hama.

In a statement, Mr. Guterres was said to be “alarmed” at news that hundreds of civilians had been killed and injured in intensifying fighting between Syrian Government forces supported by their allies and armed opposition forces including ISIL terrorist group-affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Uphold international law and protect civilians, Guterres tells warring sides

And in a call for all parties to uphold international humanitarian law and protect civilians as the holy month of Ramadan begins, he noted that three health facilities were reportedly hit by airstrikes on 5 May, “bringing the total to at least seven struck since 28 April”.

Echoing his concern, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) in Geneva said that nine schools have also reportedly been hit since 30 April.

“According to information gathered by our office, at least 27 civilians have been killed and 31 injured since 29th of April, although there are other estimates out there which are much higher,” OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said. “These are just the numbers that we have been able to fully verify, and this includes many women and children.”

Civilians increasingly at risk, warns UN human rights office

Noting that “at least 11 hospitals or medical facilities have been hit by airstrikes and ground-based strikes in northern Hama and southern Idlib” in recent days, Ms. Shamdasani warned that the situation for civilians was becoming increasingly precarious.

“Yesterday, on 6 May, Government forces started to advance on the ground and captured villages from non-State armed groups in northern Hama,” she said.

“Additionally, non-State groups carried out counter attacks in Latakia, so the violence is very much escalating.”

Since September last year, at least 323,000 people have been displaced by fighting in Syria’s north-west, according to UN humanitarian coordinating office, OCHA.

Tens of thousands displaced, often repeatedly

“The intensified military offensive has further resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of people who are repeatedly displaced and have had to move further north towards northern and eastern rural Idlib and northern and western rural Aleppo, seeking safety,” Ms. Shamdasani said.

Across Syria, more than eight years after fighting began that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, OCHA believes that 6.2 million people remain internally displaced. Their resources are increasingly depleted and more than eight in 10 individuals live below the poverty line.

Staggering humanitarian needs persist outside the country too, with more than 5.6 million Syrian nationals seeking shelter abroad.

For 2019, the UN and humanitarian partners are calling for $3.33 billion to provide critical life-saving and life-sustaining assistance to 11.7 million Syrians.

UN honours fallen colleagues and friends who ‘risk all to promote peace’

The lives of 115 colleagues who lost their lives between the beginning of last year and the end of March, serving the United Nations, were honoured on Monday at the annual Memorial Service for Fallen Staff, in New York.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that it was a “sad reminder of the often-perilous nature of our work” but also “testament to the commitment of the thousands of women and men from around the globe who are prepared to risk all to promote peace and provide assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable and needy people.”

UN Photo/Mark GartenSecretary-General António Guterres lights a candle at the annual memorial service to honour United Nations personnel who have lost their lives in the line of duty since 1 January 2018, including fallen colleagues from the Funds and Programmes.

The UN chief lit a candle in honour of the 115 colleagues from 43 different nations, alongside the President of the General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, and this month’s President of the Security Council, Dian Triansyah Djani, who is Indonesia’s UN Ambassador.

Ms. Espinosa expressed her profound respect and admiration for their dedication, passion and commitment to humanity. She said that their ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Mr. Guterres noted that most of the fallen, came from the UN peacekeeping family, “which faces increasingly complex and deadly challenges”, and the vast majority hailed from African nations, who had donned the ‘blue helmet’ to service in some of the most dangerous environments in the world. Mr. Guterres said he was grateful for the presence at UN Headquarters of the African Union Chairperson, Moussa Faki.

The commitment and sacrifice of African peacekeepers is “a stark testament to the commitment and sacrifices of our African partners to our joint endeavours toward global peace and security”, said the UN chief. 

He also noted the huge loss of 21 colleagues who had died in the Ethiopian air disaster just in March, and 19 civilians from agencies, funds and programmes. “Our deepest condolences go to all their families and loved ones, many of whom are present here today with us.”

After a moment of silence, he said the UN was working hard to mitigate the risks that colleagues face and promoting “better individual preparedness for crises” and providing “enhanced medical and psychological support”.

“We are working to speedily settle claims and we are providing more comprehensive counselling, care and assistance to survivors and families,” he said. “But I am aware that there is always more we can do, and I am committed to ensuring our Organization reviews and constantly improves our practices related to the safety and care of staff.”

The UN chief said he was “particularly outraged when our humanitarian and peacekeeping colleagues are directly targeted”, adding that it was “essential that we demand justice and accountability for what, in many instances, constitute war crimes.”

He called on the whole UN to honour the memory of the fallen, “by rededicating ourselves to the noble cause of promoting peace, prosperity and opportunity for every woman, man and child on the planet.”

Update: United Nations

6 – 10 May 2019

Monday, 6 May

A new report finds the changing climate could drive one million species into extinction in the coming decades. The Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – issued for the first time since 2005 – is the work of a panel of experts under the aegis of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Also:

Tuesday, 7 May

Launch of the UN Countering Terrorist Travel Program, which aims to help member states detect, prevent, investigate and prosecute suspected terrorists by tracking their travel across international borders.

The Security Council holds an open debate on UN Peacekeeping Operations, focusing on training and capacity-building.

UN Environment issues a new report, “Sand and Sustainability.”

Wednesday, 8 May

In the morning, the Security Council will hold a debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the afternoon, the Security Council will be briefed on Libya, in relation to the International Criminal Court. The UN again called for a humanitarian truce last week.

The semi-annual meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board begins in Geneva; this session focuses on the future of work in the digital age. Chaired by the Secretary-General, the gathering brings together the leaders of 31 UN organizations and focuses.

Thursday 9 May

Today is the Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation for Those Who Lost Their Lives during the Second World War.

Friday 10 May

In the morning, the Security Council is briefed on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya and sanctions against Libya. The Secretary-General addresses a special session of the World Trade Organization’s General Council in Geneva.

In case you missed it: The Secretary-General issued a statement condemning “in the strongest terms the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, particularly the targeting of civilian population centres” and deploring the “risk of yet another dangerous escalation and further loss of life on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan.” The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, issued a similar call for calm. Last week, USG Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefed the Security Council on the overall situation. 

Last week, the Security Council adopted resolutions on MINURSO and UNISFA (briefing here). UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ben Stiller testified at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing about the humanitarian impact of eight years of war in Syria, a day after UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen briefed the Security Council about the situation there. The UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric detailed the escalating humanitarian crisis, casualties, displacement across northwest Syria. Advocates testified at a House Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee hearing about UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. And:

·       The UN and others marked World Press Freedom Day.

·       A groundbreaking new report on antimicrobial resistance warned drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths a year by 2050, drive up to 24 million into extreme poverty by 2030, and badly damage the global economy.

·       A WFP/FAO food security assessment found more than 10 million North Koreans are suffering severe food shortages after the worst harvest in a decade.

·       This Week at the UN in 60 Seconds offers a video summary.

For more information:

Deadly violence at Israel-Gaza border escalates dangerously: UN chief condemns in strongest terms

The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, is following with “deep concern” the latest developments across the Gaza-Israeli border and urges all parties to exercise maximum restraint. Over the weekend, hundreds of rockets were launched from the Occupied Palestinian Territory into southern Israel, and Israel retaliated with hundreds of airstrikes and tank fire. 

UNUN chief António Guterres

According to news reports, several women, children and men on both sides have been killed and injured as a result of the violence.

Deploring the “risk of yet another dangerous escalation and further loss of life on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan,” on Sunday, the UN chief condemned “in the strongest terms the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, particularly the targeting of civilian population centres”. 

He urged all parties to “exercise maximum restraint, immediately de-escalate and return to the understandings of the past few months,” referring to a fragile Egypt-brokered and UN-backed ceasefire, which was recently agreed. 
The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, issued a similar call for calm on Saturday and continues to work closely with Egypt and all concerned parties to restore calm.

Against a backdrop of longstanding shortages of basic goods and services in Gaza linked to a more than decade-long air, sea and land blockade by Israel, Palestinian protests began over a year ago in the Strip. In an ongoing cycle of violence, close to 200 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 40 children, and over 1,300 have been injured.