Russia, China veto UN resolution for cease-fire in Syria’s Idlib

Syrian fighters from the Turkish-backed NLF hold a frontline position facing regime-controlled areas in the Abu Zuhur region of the northern Idlib province. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2019

Russia, China veto UN resolution for cease-fire in Syria’s Idlib

  • The resolution demanded that counterterrorism activities comply with international humanitarian law

NEW YORK: Russia and China vetoed on Thursday a resolution backed by the vast majority of UN Security Council members that called for a cease-fire in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, the country’s last opposition stronghold. 

The resolution demanded that counterterrorism activities comply with international humanitarian law. 

Germany, Belgium and Kuwait finalized their text on Wednesday and called for a vote on Thursday.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council the aim of the resolution  was “to save the international terrorists who are entrenched in Idlib from their final defeat.”

Syrian forces, backed by Russia, had targeted Idlib in a four-month ground and air offensive but civilians have been widely affected. A cease-fire that went into effect at the end of August has held despite some violations.

Germany’s UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen countered that supporters of the purely humanitarian resolution “stand firm in our resolve to combat terrorism” — but insist that operations must ensure protection of civilians as required by international law.

The vote in the 15-member council on Thursday was 12-2 with Equatorial Guinea abstaining. Another rival resolution calling for a cease-fire in Idlib drafted by Russia and China remains to be voted on.

SPEEDREAD

Germany, Belgium and Kuwait finalized their text on Wednesday and called for a vote on Thursday. Their draft resolution called for a cessation of hostilities in Idlib governorate on Saturday.

Earlier, a senior UN official told the Security Council that the humanitarian situation in Idlib was “alarming.” An estimated 400,000 people have fled their homes in the country’s northwest in just the last four months, and around 600,000 are living in tents, camps or out in the open.

Deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller said that, following months of intensive fighting and a “fragile cease-fire,” the outlook for Idlib province remains uncertain as winter approaches.

She said humanitarian organizations estimate an addition $68.4 million is required for winterization, shelter and non-food items.

Germany, Belgium and Kuwait finalized their text on Wednesday afternoon and called for a vote on Thursday. Their draft resolution calls for a cessation of hostilities in Idlib governorate at noon Damascus time on Saturday.

Soon after, Russia and China also put their rival text in a final form for a vote. It calls for a cessation of hostilities in September but gives no date. Their resolution would also include exemptions for “military operations against individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with terrorist group, as designated by the Security Council.”

Germany, Belgium and Kuwait, who are serving two-year terms on the Security Council, are in charge of drafting resolutions on Syria’s humanitarian situation. Diplomats said they have been meeting with Russia to try to reach agreement on a text following a spate of attacks on hospitals, health facilities and aid workers.

The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said the three countries insist that the text include language that counter-terrorism activities must comply with international humanitarian law, but Russia objected.

The draft resolution by Germany, Belgium and Kuwait “demands that member states ensure that all measures taken to counter terrorism, including in Idlib governorate, comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international refugee law.”

It urges all parties to the Syrian conflict to distinguish between civilians and combatants, to apply the principle of “proportionality,” and to take all feasible precautions “to avoid and in any event minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects.”

It also stresses “that counter-terrorism operations do not absolve parties to armed conflicts of their obligations under international humanitarian law, including their obligation to distinguish between civilian populations and combatants.”

And it urges all parties to the Syrian conflict to distinguish between civilians and combatants, to apply the principle of “proportionality,” and to take all feasible precautions “to avoid and in any event minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects.”

The China-Russia draft resolution makes no mention of counter-terrorism operations but would reiterate the council’s demand for all parties to comply with international law and allow access to people in need, and to immediately cease all attacks against civilians and medical and humanitarian personnel.

It also calls for all parties to “demilitarize” hospitals and other civilian facilities and avoid establishing military positions in populated areas.

On Monday, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to de-escalate the volatile situation in Idlib while combatting extremists and protecting civilians.

Idlib, which has an estimated population of 3 million, is dominated by the Al-Qaeda-linked group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham. Syrian forces, backed by Russia and Iran, targeted the armed group in a four-month ground and air offensive but civilians have been widely affected.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians, some already displaced from other parts of the war-torn country, have moved toward Turkey’s border.

A cease-fire that went into effect at the end of August has been holding despite some violations.

A major conflict in Idlib has raised the possibility of a mass refugee flow to Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

A joint statement issued at the end of Monday’s meeting said the three leaders underscored the need “to fully implement” an agreement reached between Turkey and Russia last year for a de-escalation zone in Idlib and “to take concrete steps to reduce violations.”

They expressed alarm “about the risk of further deterioration of the humanitarian situation,” according to the statement.

“We all stand for Syria’s territorial integrity and insist that after the problems of security and the fight against terrorists are resolved, Syria’s territorial integrity will be fully restored. This concerns withdrawal of all foreign troops from Syria’s territory,” the statement said.


Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

Updated 21 January 2020

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

  • Expert says sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in Libyan conflict unlikely

JEDDAH: With the conclusion of the Libya peace summit in Berlin on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether Turkey is willing to implement the provisions of the final communique and stay out of the conflict.

Ankara is accused of sending Syrian fighters to the Libyan battlefront in support of Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

During the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concerns over the arrival of Syrian and other foreign fighters in Tripoli, saying: “That must end.” 

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst at Oxford University, speculates that Turkey will not deploy more troops.  

But he told Arab News that a sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in the Libyan conflict is unlikely for the moment as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will remain present “until the GNA’s future is secured.”

Noting the difficulty of enforcing the Berlin agreement, Ramani said Turkey might not be the first mover in breaching a cease-fire in Libya.

But he added that Turkey will not hesitate to deploy forces and upend the agreement if Haftar makes any moves that it considers “provocative.”

The summit called for sanctions on those who violate the UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya.

Turkish opposition MPs recently criticized the expanded security pact between Ankara and the GNA, saying the dispatch of materials and equipment to Libya breaches the UN arms embargo.

Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.

Micha’el Tanchum, Analyst

The summit does not seem to have resolved ongoing disputes regarding the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, a planned natural gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean energy resources to mainland Greece via Cyprus and Crete.

The Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of being a “pirate state,” citing Ankara’s recent drilling off its coasts just a day after Brussels warned Turkey that its plans were illegal.

Erdogan dismissed the warning and threatened to send to the EU some 4 million refugees that Turkey is hosting.

Turkey dispatched its Yavuz drillship to the south of Cyprus on Sunday, based on claims deriving from the maritime delimitation agreement with the GNA.

Turkey’s insistence on gas exploration in the region may be subject to sanctions as early as this week, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based political analyst, drew attention to Article 25 of the Berlin final communique, which underlined the “Libyan Political Agreement as a viable framework for the political solution in Libya,” and called for the “establishment of a functioning presidency council and the formation of a single, unified, inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”

Sezer told Arab News: “Getting approval from Libya’s Haftar-allied House of Representatives would be a serious challenge for Ankara because Haftar recently considered all agreements with Turkey as a betrayal. This peace conference once more showed that Turkey should keep away from Libya.”

Many experts remain skeptical about the possible outcome of the summit. 

Micha’el Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said: “Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.”