LONDON: The UN’s special envoy for Syria has appealed for an immediate end to an “alarming” escalation of fighting in the country’s southwestern city of Daraa which has caused numerous civilian casualties and left thousands of people displaced.
Weeks of heavy shelling and ground clashes have resulted in food and medical shortages and around 18,000 people fleeing the area.
UN ambassador, Geir Pederson, said: “Thousands of civilians have been forced to flee Daraa Al-Balad. Civilians are suffering with acute shortages of fuel, cooking gas, water, and bread. Medical assistance is in short supply to treat the injured.”
He reiterated his call for an “immediate end to the violence” and for all parties to uphold the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure during the conduct of war “in accordance with international law.”
Daraa Al-Balad is a former opposition stronghold in the Daraa governorate, and the area witnessed a spike in hostilities toward the end of July.
The government then imposed strict movement controls on the city, however a truce between opposition fighters and government forces in the area has now all but collapsed.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has bolstered his forces in the area with additional soldiers and tanks which have shelled opposition-held districts, killing at least eight civilians, and forcing up to 18,000 people to escape from the fighting.
“Immediate, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian access must be granted to all affected areas and communities, including Daraa Al-Balad, and the near siege-like situation must end,” Pederson added.
More than 500,000 people have been killed in Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011. The conflict has passed through many stages, and despite recent flare ups, has now largely frozen, with various armed groups — backed by external actors — maintaining control over different parts of the country, most notably in the north.
Assad has been accused of multiple war crimes, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and the use of banned chemical weapons against enemy combatants and civilians. He has received the support of Iran and Hezbollah in order to stay in power.
Pederson said that he and his team would “continue to engage with all relevant parties on the ground and internationally to end the crisis.”
But he warned that in Daraa, “there is the potential for increased confrontations and further deterioration unless there is an immediate calm and a political way forward.”
The envoy also repeated his calls for all parties in the conflict to engage in a nationwide ceasefire and to pursue a political resolution to the war.