Daughter of Edward Said remembers her ‘best friend’ on his 86th birth anniversary

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Updated 01 November 2021

Daughter of Edward Said remembers her ‘best friend’ on his 86th birth anniversary

Daughter of Edward Said remembers her ‘best friend’ on his 86th birth anniversary
  • Growing up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Najla Said faced a personal identity crisis as an Arab-American
  • Edward Said was an author, public thinker, pianist, founding figure of postcolonial studies and proponent of the Palestinian cause

DUBAI: The world will always remember Edward Said as a man of letters with a wide range of interests.

Born to Palestinian parents in British-ruled Jerusalem in the 1930s, he became an internationally recognized author, critic, professor, public thinker, gifted pianist, founding figure of postcolonial studies and lifelong proponent of the Palestinian cause.

However, in the eyes of his only daughter, the actress, playwright and author of “Looking for Palestine,” Najla Said, he was simply “Daddy.”

Her earliest memory of her father shows just how attached she was to him from a very young age.




Young girl Najla and her "best friend" dad. (Supplied)

“I remember being about two or three years old and I had a bloody nose. My mother told me to lie down and hold my nose, but I remember when my dad came home from work, I jumped up, shouting ‘Daddy!’ and ran toward him while blood was running down my nose,” she told Arab News in a video interview. “I was so excited that he was home. I loved him very, very much.”

Najla Said grew up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she faced a personal identity crisis as an Arab-American, feeling like an outsider at a posh all-girls school that she said lacked diversity.

“I was never around people like me and it was very confusing,” she said. “My friends were all blonde, they had tiny little bones, and they all seemed to know each other from their summer houses. I spent a lot of my childhood in Lebanon, going back and forth before I started school, and I came from this enormous, wonderful family that I loved but as soon as I went to school, I realized that somehow I was different.”

The older she got, the more prominent her father became in the public eye, which she found embarrassing at the time.




Najla Said, daughter of Palestinian-American author Edward Said. (Supplied)

“A lot of people have said to me, ‘How could you have grown up with this person and been ashamed of being Palestinian?’ But that’s the whole point, because I think people don’t realize that before the last 20 or so years, people in America from other countries would be very uncomfortable revealing their ethnic identity, because the whole idea was to be American and assimilate.”

Today, as an adult woman, she views her father differently.

Said’s magnum opus, “Orientalism,” presented his perspective of how the West had degradingly perceived the East, or “the Orient,” in everything from literary texts to popular representation.

Though it was published in 1978, it remains highly relevant and is required reading for college students in many countries.

Said’s speeches were so captivating that, as one close friend said, “when he spoke, the whole room was just spellbound, not daring to say a word.”

“After 9/11, in the last couple of years of his life, I was really proud to be his daughter. I was old enough to understand,” Najla Said told Arab News.




Portrait of the essayist, professor of literature and ex member of the Palestinian National Council Edward Said. (Getty Images)

As his fame grew, so too did the aggression of his critics, she recalls. His life was in danger, subject to death threats, and his office at Columbia University, where he taught for four decades, was once set ablaze.

Said describes her father as “ahead of his time.”

“I think he was saying things people weren’t ready to hear.”

She believes he paved the way for people to openly assert their multi-layered identity. “When I went to college in the early 1990s, when the political correctness movement was just beginning, everyone was saying, ‘I’m African-American, I’m Asian-American.’ He gets the credit for ‘Asian-American’ because he was the one who said, ‘oriental’ is not a good word.”

Najla and Edward are alike in several ways: Like him, she is passionate, temperamental and expressive in her writing. She cherishes some of the moments she shared with her father, including rubbing shoulders with literary giants.

Attending a UNESCO committee in Paris together in 1993, they met the Italian philosopher Umberto Eco and the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.




Edward Said, Palestinian writer in Modena, Italy, on 18th Sept. 2001. (Getty Images)

“My dad was parading me around on his arm and Gabriel Garcia Marquez came up to me and asked me, in French, which of his books I’d read, and I said, ‘None of them.’ Marquez said, ‘I can’t believe that girl said that to me,’ and he took me by the arm, saying: ‘I like her!’ My dad felt so proud of me.”

To Najla, her father was a gentleman, a man who loved to puff away on his pipe and listen to Wagner. He collected pens and ties, and his tweed suits were tailored in Savile Row, in London. He was conversational and loyal, but did not mince his words.

Edward Said befriended the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and disagreed with Yasser Arafat. On air, he challenged television journalists such as Charlie Rose and Tim Sebastian over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He did not like pop music, nor the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, who he said sounded like she was wailing.

His passion for classical music led him to work with his friend, the veteran Israeli-Argentinian conductor Daniel Barenboim, to establish in 1999 the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, made up mostly of Arab and Israeli musicians. “He even said, at the end of his life, that the greatest thing he ever did was that orchestra,” said Najla.




Palestinian writer and scholar Edward Said (R) talks to journalists at a press conference with Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim (L) in Oviedo 25 Oct. 2002, after it was announced that they will be awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord 2002, for their joint efforts to promote peace in the Middle East. (File/AFP)

She said her father encouraged her pursuit of the arts and was supportive when she struggled with anorexia, heartbreaks and self-doubt. “I was in college and I had shown him a draft of my senior thesis and said, ‘I’m so dumb’.” In a handwritten note, he responded: “There are a lot of things you are, Naj. Dumb isn’t one of them.”

Najla Said remembers her dad as sweet and loving and a man who always made time for his family. “The only place I ever felt safe was with my mother (Mariam), father and brother (Wadie). It was like us against the world. The idea of ‘home’ is: My family is home,” she said.

To this day, she finds her father’s fame surreal. “I’m still surprised by how many people know who he is,” she said. “I went back to one of my college reunions at Princeton, which is a very white, preppy school, and the kid, a typical American boy, who checked me in said, “What’s your last name?’ and I replied, ‘Said,’ and he goes, ‘Oh, like Edward!’”

He changed how the world approached representation. In 2015, a fashion exhibit entitled ‘China: Through the Looking Glass’ was put on at the Metropolitan Museum, and on the wall at the beginning they flashed up his name. “The people at the museum were like, ‘We have to be careful of how we present,’” she recalled. “I never thought I’d see my dad on the wall of a fashion exhibition.”

The fact that her father remains alive in the hearts of so many has been a source of comfort for Said. “I feel like I’m not alone. If I’m in an unfamiliar place and someone knows who he is, I feel, ‘OK, I’m safe here,’ because someone knows who I am and they’re OK with that.”




Professor and writer Edward Said poses Feb. 8, 2003 in his office at Columbia University in New York City. (Getty Images)

Najla was only 17 when Said was diagnosed with leukemia in the early 1990s, a battle he fought until his death in 2003, six months after the US invasion of Iraq.

“He used to joke that he ‘took off’ as soon as we invaded Iraq,” she said. “He was like, ‘Ah! I’m done. No one’s listening to me. I’ve got to go.’”

As the disease began to take its toll on Said’s health, he lost weight and his voice became hoarse, his daughter recalled, but “he still had this fire in him.”

Nearly 20 years after his death, Edward Said continues to be an inspiration for marginalized peoples the world over. “What he was saying was basic and universal, and ultimately about humanity,” she said.

Said would have turned 86 on Nov. 1. He loved birthdays and an ideal gift for him was clothing.

On a day that is heavy with emotions for the family, Najla Said has a wish. “At the end of the day, losing a parent is hard,” she said. “I miss him so much, it’s hard to even explain. I was definitely a daddy’s girl and he was my best friend. So, I would say: ‘Please come back. This is nonsense.’”

_______________

Twitter: @aRTprojectdxb


Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan
Updated 11 sec ago

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan
  • Arab News told announcement on appointment of ambassadors possible before Israeli president’s trip

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has predicted the start of a positive “new period” in relations with Israel when his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog visits Turkey next month.

During a televised interview, the Turkish leader announced that Herzog would make the trip to Ankara before mid-February, prompting speculation among analysts that a move on the appointment of ambassadors to both countries could be imminent.

Although precise dates for the visit have not yet been revealed, it will mark the highest-level trip by an Israeli official to Turkey for years when then-Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Ankara on the invitation of then-PM Erdogan.

In his nighttime TV announcement, Erdogan said: “With this visit, a new period can begin in Israel-Turkey relations.”

According to experts, any success in turning a new page in the fragile relationship between the two nations will depend on several factors, including the re-exchanging of envoys, and restrictions on Hamas’ activities in Turkey.

Herzog and Erdogan have spoken three times by phone since July, both passing on friendly messages, and last week Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu called his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid, the first time such communication had taken place between the two nations’ foreign ministers in 13 years.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told Arab News that the appointment of ambassadors would be a concrete first step toward the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations.

“There is some Israeli concern with the choice of ambassador on the Turkish side, but this is an issue that can be resolved,” she said.

She noted that any significant improvement in the COVID-19 situation could potentially cause friction over the entrance of certain Turkish citizens to Israel.

“Israel might deny entry to those it suspects are contributing to igniting tensions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and among Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and Turkey will likely claim these people are innocent visitors.

“While a report that surfaced this week of Turkish willingness to curb some of Hamas’ orchestrated military activity from its territory is welcomed news in Israel, a negative development in this realm will be an additional cause of friction between Israel and Turkey,” Lindenstrauss added.

To what extent Turkey’s vocal support for the Palestinian cause, including settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, will be reconciled within the rapprochement process is still unknown.

Potential energy projects between the two countries are also on the negotiation table especially after Washington recently decided to withdraw support for the Israeli-Greek East Med pipeline. Following the decision, Erdogan said Turkey was ready to work with Israel on reviving gas transfer to Europe via Turkish soil.

Ankara is eager to diversify its energy resources in the wake of Iran’s sudden move to cut gas flows to Turkey and in the face of a threat to gas imports posed by the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.

“With regard to Turkish statements on renewal of the option of Israel exporting natural gas to Turkey and from there to Europe, it is not clear if developments since 2016 connected to Israel’s gas exports to and through Egypt, as well as recent developments surrounding the Arab pipeline, do not preclude such a pipeline,” Lindenstrauss said.

On the importance of Herzog’s visit, she added: “When Shimon Peres visited Turkey in 2007, he and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, gave speeches one after the other in front of the Turkish Parliament. This was the first speech of an Israeli leader in a Muslim-majority country’s parliament.

“Thus, it will be a good reminder that Ankara is capable of playing a more balanced role with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the benefits of such a more dispassionate stance.”

Dr. Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, told Arab News that Herzog’s visit would be important for Turkey in overcoming its ongoing diplomatic isolation and improving relations with regional countries.

She said: “An announcement about the appointment of ambassadors may be expected before Herzog’s visit. Actually, it is just a technical detail. Both countries didn’t downgrade their diplomatic relations, they just called back their ambassadors.”

During the upcoming meeting in Ankara, Nasi expected the Palestinian issue, energy, trade, tourism, and regional security, including East Med balances, Syria, Iran, and Libya, to be high on the agenda.

“Ankara would prefer conditioning its rapprochement with Israel with the improvement in living conditions of Palestinian people. At the same time, Israel would expect from Turkey a step forward in terms of Hamas activities in the country,” she added.

Nasi pointed out that Israel had never closed its door to any dialogue opportunity with Turkey. “But its prerequisite is clear: Turkey should stop its support to Hamas. Israel therefore expects clear reassurances from the Turkish side.”

Meanwhile, experts believe that a resolution to the Cyprus issue will be the key to moving forward with any energy project between the two countries.

Nasi said: “The energy topic is preferred by the politicians because it creates a positive agenda in the public opinion of both countries.”

Erdogan is expected to visit the UAE on Feb. 14 as another step toward mending his country’s frayed ties with countries in the region.


Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating
Updated 36 min 17 sec ago

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating

Snowstorm Yasmine leaves Lebanese families stranded without heating
  • President Aoun monitors aid effort as entire towns and villages are cut off
  • Japan donates $1.8 million to support UNICEF humanitarian aid programs

BEIRUT: People across Lebanon have been left stranded and struggling to find fuel for heating as snowstorm Yasmine continues to wreak havoc.

President Michel Aoun’s media office said he had instructed the relevant authorities to provide assistance to people in affected areas and had been following the work of military, security and civil agencies as they sought to clear roads.

As the storm intensified on Wednesday night, entire cities and villages in the Bekaa and northern regions were cut off, while power cuts left residents without heating.

Snow fell at an altitude of 500 meters above sea level, leaving dozens of towns along the eastern and western mountain chains isolated. Most main and mountain roads at an altitude of 1,100 meters and above were completely cut off.

Snow also engulfed the runways at Beirut Airport, though did not prevent operations, and covered beaches in the northern cities of Byblos and Beirut and the southern city of Sidon.

Also in Sidon, firefighters rushed to tackle a blaze after a school bus was set on fire by lightning.

Along the banks of the Hasbani River in Shebaa and the neighboring villages of Arqoub the snowfall was recorded at up to a meter deep.

Footage shot in some of the worst affected areas went viral on social media.

In some regions the authorities issued warnings to motorists against driving as the freezing temperatures covered roads with ice.

The Ministry of Public Works warned people against trying to find alternative routes around snow-blocked roads until the authorities had clarified the situation and issued guidance.

The director-general of the Lebanese Civil Defense, Brig. Gen. Raymond Khattar, said the agency had responded to multiple calls from around the country, while the army said it was helping to get fuel to people in need and clear snow from roads.

Meanwhile, many people have complained about not being able to buy gas or diesel to heat their homes as they have become too expensive and too scarce.

Many gas stations ran out of diesel, which is mainly used for heating in mountain regions, as the price of a 20-liter canister reached $17.

Some people resorted to burning charcoal, while those less fortunate did their best to stay warm by wrapping themselves in blankets.

“The lack of heating is not limited to mountainous areas, but rather to cities and Beirut in particular,” a Civil Defense worker told Arab News.

“In poor homes we found children and the elderly curled up with only blankets,” the person said.

Speaking about the diesel shortage, Economy Minister Amin Salam said: “Those who try to monopolize diesel will be pursued, especially in mountainous areas.”

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Walid Fayyad spoke of “violations committed by diesel distributors who do not abide by the specified fees.”

“There is an active black market taking commissions of up to 10 or 15 percent,” he said. “This is a crime. The perpetrators must be prosecuted and measures must be taken against them.”

One of the groups to be worst hit by the bad weather were the Syrian refugees — especially those in barren areas of Bekaa — whose flimsy plastic tents were left covered in snow.

UNICEF said on Thursday that Japan had contributed $1.8 million for humanitarian aid through the Adolescent and Youth, and Water Sanitation and Hygiene programs in Lebanon.

The money would be used to help 35,000 vulnerable children and families, it said.

Over the next two months, when temperatures at high altitude can fall to minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), UNICEF will distribute blankets and warm clothing to vulnerable people with limited or no access to heating, as well as continuing to provide water and sanitation services within Bekaa.

Okubo Takeshi, Japan’s ambassador to Lebanon, said: “We are fully aware of the gravity of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Lebanon where true victims are always vulnerable children and families.

“As they face the harsh winter conditions, Japan has decided to strengthen its interventions through UNICEF to alleviate their sufferings. I hope they receive our message through the assistance that the international community will be there with you at all times.”

Takeshi then tweeted: “No winter lasts forever, nor will the Lebanese crisis. Relief must come. May God protect Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s acting Information and Education Minister Abbas Al-Halabi said the Cabinet’s discussions of the government’s 2022 draft budget would be completed by Friday.


Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian
Updated 41 min 55 sec ago

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian
  • The autopsy, undertaken by three Palestinian doctors, confirmed that Omar Asaad, who has US citizenship, suffered from underlying health conditions
  • The cause of death was a “sudden cessation of the heart muscle caused by psychological tension due to the external violence he was exposed to”

JERUSALEM: An autopsy has found that a 78-year-old Palestinian man who was pronounced dead shortly after being detained by Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank died of a heart attack caused by “external violence.”
The autopsy, undertaken by three Palestinian doctors, confirmed that Omar Asaad, who has US citizenship, suffered from underlying health conditions. But it also found bruises on his head, redness on his wrists from being bound, and bleeding in his eyelids from being tightly blindfolded.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, concluded that the cause of death was a “sudden cessation of the heart muscle caused by psychological tension due to the external violence he was exposed to.”
Asaad was detained while returning home from a social gathering at around 3 a.m. on Jan. 12 by Israeli soldiers who had set up a flying checkpoint in his home village of Jiljiliya. It’s a common occurrence in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military rule since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war.
Palestinian witnesses say Asaad was roughed up before being bound and blindfolded, and then taken to an abandoned apartment complex nearby. Other Palestinians who were detained in the same building later that night said they didn’t realize he was there until after the soldiers left, when they found him unconscious, lying face down on the ground, and called an ambulance.
The Israeli military has said he was detained after resisting an inspection and later released, implying he was alive. It’s unclear when exactly he died. Initial reports said he was 80 years old.
The unit that detained Asaad, Netzah Yehuda, or “Judea Forever,” is a special unit for ultra-Orthodox Jewish soldiers. It was formed with the aim of integrating a segment of the population that does not normally do military service. But Israeli media have reported problems in the unit stemming from the hard-line ideology of many of the soldiers.
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, an Israeli military spokesman, said the incident remains under investigation and that “actions will be taken if wrongdoing is found.”
The US Embassy said it has not yet seen a final report from the Israeli government and supports a “thorough investigation into the circumstances of the incident.” It said it was “deeply saddened” by Asaad’s death and has been in close contact with his family to provide consular assistance.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said Asaad’s detention was “bizarre.”
“This is a very small, quiet village,” said Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for the group. “There was no reason at all to take an 80-year-old and to drag him and handcuff him. I have no idea why they did it.”
Israel says it thoroughly investigates incidents in which Palestinians are killed by Israeli troops. But rights groups say those investigations rarely lead to indictments or convictions, and that in many cases the army does not interview key witnesses or retrieve evidence.
Sadot said the fact that the military is still investigating more than two weeks after the incident, even with the added pressure of American scrutiny, indicates that any eventual conclusion will be another “whitewash.”
“I don’t know, but from our experience, it will lead to nothing,” she said.


Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout

Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout
Updated 55 min 22 sec ago

Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout

Jordan troops kill 27 drug smugglers in Syrian border shootout
  • Experts have warned that Syria could turn into a narco-state due to the growth of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the country

AMMAN: The Jordanian army said its troops on the northeastern border with Syria killed 27 drug smugglers after they tried to illegally enter the country at dawn on Thursday.

The clash with smugglers, the deadliest ever, came after the Jordanian Armed Forces announced a change in the rules of engagement in a bid to curb increasing illicit drug smuggling from Syria.

A security source told Arab News that orders were given to troops to chase and kill smugglers inside Syrian territory rather than wait until they get closer to the borders.

The security source said that the smugglers killed in Thursday’s operation tried to take advantage of the harsh weather conditions but “were received by vigilant border guards.”

The JAF said in a statement on Thursday that the smugglers were aided by an armed group, adding that a preliminary search of the area was conducted and large quantities of narcotics were found.

“The smugglers were supported by other armed groups,” the JAF said, adding that troops also wounded an unknown number of traffickers while others retreated back into Syrian territory.

Jordan has reported a surge in drug smuggling attempts from Syria, with authorities seizing large quantities of narcotics either found hidden in trucks on borders crossings or abandoned by smugglers following clashes with troops.

On Jan. 17, the Jordanian army announced that an officer had been killed and three border guards wounded in a clash with drug smugglers on the border with Syria, which stretches more than 360 kilometers.

The Jordanian army recently said that it had thwarted a total of 361 infiltration and smuggling attempts from Syria into the kingdom in 2021, seizing about 15.5 million pills.

In 2020, the army said it had thwarted more than 130 infiltration and smuggling attempts from Syria that resulted in the seizure of about 132 million Captagon pills and more than 15,000 sheets of hashish.

And in October last year, the Jordanian army said it had shot down a drone carrying a large quantity of drugs as it flew over the border.

Experts have warned that Syria could turn into a narco-state due to the growth of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the country and the group’s expansion of its drug trafficking operations as alternative financing following US sanctions.

UN drug experts say that Syria, shattered by a decade-long civil war, has become the region’s main production site for drugs destined for Jordan, Iraq, the Gulf and Europe.

According to an EU-funded report by the Center for Operational Analysis and Research, “Captagon exports from Syria reached a market value of at least $3.46 billion” in 2020.


Two years of stalemate show a military solution in Syria is an illusion, says UN envoy

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the SDF. (Reuters/File Photo)
According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the SDF. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 27 January 2022

Two years of stalemate show a military solution in Syria is an illusion, says UN envoy

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the SDF. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Geir Pedersen also told the Security Council that the humanitarian tragedy in the country is “only deepening,” with 14 million people now in need of aid to survive a harsh winter
  • America’s ambassador said her country is frustrated with the stalled efforts of the Syrian Constitutional Committee and the ‘unwillingness’ of the Assad regime to make progress

NEW YORK: The strategic stalemate in Syria makes it clear that no warring faction has the ability to decisively affect the outcome of the decade-long conflict, and so the idea that there can be a military solution is “an illusion,” the UN’s special envoy to Syria told the Security Council on Thursday.

“Despite the continued violence and suffering, (there have) been no shifts in the front lines for nearly two years,” Geir Pedersen said.

“It is clear that no existing actor or group of actors can determine the trajectory or outcome of this conflict, and indeed that the military solution remains an illusion.”

The envoy highlighted the precarious security situation that exists in several parts in the country, where “Syrians continue to suffer deeply.”

He said the violence continues unabated, including airstrikes on Idlib that kill civilians and damage infrastructure, mutual shelling across the front lines, hostilities in the northeast, improvised explosive device attacks in the north, and the Israeli shelling of the main commercial port of Latakiah. There have also been security incidents involving drug smuggling and Daesh attacks in the northeastern and central Syria, he added.

On a humanitarian level, Pedersen said the tragedy of the Syrian people is “only deepening,” exacerbated by the freezing winter conditions.

“14 million civilians now need humanitarian assistance,” he said. “More than 12 million remain displaced. Tens of thousands are detained, abducted or missing. The economy of Syria has collapsed. Criminality and smuggling are flourishing. And there are reports of young people seeking any opportunity to leave the country, sometimes falling prey to traffickers and warlords.

“Education is fragmented and severely degraded, as indeed are institutions and infrastructure across the board. The country remains de facto divided and society is deeply fractured. Syrians see no concrete progress toward a political solution.”

Having established this backdrop, the Norwegian envoy briefed the 15 members of the Security Council on his most recent efforts to advance the diplomatic process. He updated them on his meetings in recent weeks with officials from Germany, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Qatar and the UK to discuss the status of Syria’s Constitutional Committee, the most recent meeting of which took place in October last year.

In December, Perdersen’s deputy, Khawla Mattar from Bahrain, attended an Astana-format meeting in Kazakhstan where she met senior officials from Russia, Turkey, Iran, and the Syrian government and opposition.

She also met with representatives of the Working Group on the Release of Detainees and Abductees and the Handover of Bodies and the Identification of Missing Persons. Pedersen said good proposals emerged from that meeting “but what is absolutely needed is for these ideas now to be followed up on, as we are urging all stakeholders to do.”

Pedersen said he has also held a series of bilateral meetings with officials from Russia, the EU, Turkey, Qatar, the Arab League, Germany, France, Italy, the UK and the US. He described these consultations as a “rolling process where it will be necessary to revert to interlocutors repeatedly over time.”

He added: “My question to all interlocutors is the same: Can you identify not only what you demand, but also what you are prepared to put on the table in exchange for steps from the other side?”

The envoy said he seeks “fresh ideas from any quarter that could bring about action” on issues such as detainees and missing persons; the safe and “voluntary” return of refugees; restoring an economy that has “collapsed after more than a decade of war, corruption, mismanagement;” establishing calm throughout Syria; cooperation in fighting terrorism; and thoughts on the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon.

Pedersen also highlighted the plight of civilians at Al-Ghuwayran prison in Al-Hasakah, northeastern Syria, which was the scene of an attempted jailbreak by hundreds of Daesh insurgents last week that left at least 300 detainees dead.

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces on the ground.

Fionnula Ni Aolain, a UN human rights expert, expressed serious concern for the well-being of more than 700 children locked up the prison.

She said boys as young as 12 are living “in fear for their lives amid the chaos and carnage in the jail (and) are tragically being neglected by their own countries through no fault of their own except they were born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups.”

Pedersen said: “UNICEF drew attention to reports of (Daesh) members being holed up in dormitories for minors, putting hundreds of children in detention at risk.

“This episode brings back terrible memories of the prison breaks that fueled the original rise of (Daesh) in 2014 and 2015.

“I see this as a clear message to us all of the importance of uniting to combat the threat of internationally-proscribed terrorist groups — and to resolve the broader conflict in which terrorism inevitably thrives.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent representative of the US to the UN, said that the ongoing situation in Al-Hasakah “a stark reminder” that Daesh “remains a real threat.”

She also reiterated her country’s support for the diplomatic process in Syria and lamented the “less than constructive comments” by some states about Pedersen’s effort to advance the dialogue.

She singled out Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, quoting his public statement that Pedersen’s “steps-for-steps model as a way to resolve the crisis in Syria is unacceptable for us.” 

Thomas-Greenfield said her country shares Pedersen’s frustration with the lack of progress by the Syrian Constitutional Committee, and expressed disappointment “with the Assad regime participants’ unwillingness to make progress toward this end.”

Ambassador Mohammed Abushabab, the UAE’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, expressed support for Pedersen’s efforts and told the council that his country’s vision of a peaceful solution in Syria involves “opening channels of communication and building bridges, creating opportunities to support and reinvigorate the Constitutional Committee and ending foreign interference.”

He added: “Creating an appropriate environment to achieve peace and stability in Syria requires an end to foreign interference in Syrian affairs. We stress here the importance of preserving the unity, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.

“In this context, the UAE supports the call of the United Nations secretary-general and the special envoy for Syria to reach an immediate ceasefire throughout the country, and we stress the importance of maintaining and sustaining it.”