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)
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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.”


UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria
Updated 30 June 2022

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria
  • There are currently over 90,000 Ukraine refugees in Bulgaria

DUBAI: The UAE has dispatched a plane carrying 52 metric tons of food supplies to support Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria, Emirates news agency (WAM) reported on Thursday.

The aid comes as part of efforts “to alleviate the humanitarian impact faced by Ukrainian refugees” in nearby countries, the statement read.

There are currently over 90,000 Ukraine refugees in Bulgaria.

Earlier this month, the UAE sent a plane carrying 27 tons of food and medical supplies to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Since the outset of the war in Ukraine, the country has dispatched six planes to Poland and Moldova, carrying 156 tons of food and medical aid and ambulances, as part of a $5m donation.


Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister

Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister
Updated 30 June 2022

Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister

Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister
  • The patient has an immune system deficiency
  • Virus identified in over 50 new countries outside Africa

ISTANBUL: Turkey has detected its first case of monkeypox in a 37-year-old patient who is in isolation, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Thursday.
The virus has been identified in more than 50 new countries outside the countries in Africa where it is endemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) says cases are also rising in those countries, calling for testing to be ramped up.
“Monkeypox has been detected in one of our patients. The patient is 37 years old and has an immune system deficiency,” Koca wrote on Twitter.
He said the patient was in isolation and contact follow-up had been conducted, with no other case found.
There have been more than 3,400 cases of monkeypox, and one death, since the outbreak began in May, according to a WHO tally. There have also been more than 1,500 cases and 66 deaths in countries this year where it more usually spreads.
Last week, the WHO ruled that the outbreak did not yet represent a public health emergency, its highest level of alert.


Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election

Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election
Updated 30 June 2022

Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election

Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election
  • The final dissolution bill ends year-long premiership of Naftali Bennett
  • Bennett said he will not stand in the Nov. 1 election, which will see Benjamin Netanyahu attempt to reclaim power

JERUSALEM:Israeli lawmakers dissolved parliament on Thursday, forcing the country’s fifth election in less than four years, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid set to take over as caretaker prime minister at midnight.
The final dissolution bill, which passed with 92 votes in favor none against, ends the year-long premiership of Naftali Bennett, who led an eight-party coalition that was backed by an Arab party, a first in Israeli history.
Following the vote, Lapid and Bennett immediately swapped seats in the parliament — the Knesset — and Lapid was embraced by members of his centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party.
Bennett said late Wednesday that he will not stand in the upcoming election set for Nov. 1, which will see veteran right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu attempt to reclaim power.
Netanyahu has promised that his alliance of right-wingers, ultra-nationalists and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties will win the upcoming vote, but opinion polls show he may also struggle to rally a parliamentary majority.
Bennett will host Lapid for a handover ceremony later Thursday, the prime minister’s office said.
The outgoing premier will also hand the leadership of his religious nationalist Yamina party to his long-time political ally, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Netanyahu’s main challenger will likely be long-time foe Lapid, a former celebrity news anchor who has surprised many since being dismissed as a lightweight when he entered politics a decade ago.
Bennett’s motley alliance formed with Lapid in June 2021 offered a reprieve from an unprecedented era of political gridlock, ending Netanyahu’s record 12 consecutive years in power and passing Israel’s first state budget since 2018.
As pair announced plans to end their coalition last week, Lapid sought to cast Netanyahu’s potential return to office as a national threat.
“What we need to do today is go back to the concept of Israeli unity. Not to let dark forces tear us apart from within,” Lapid said.
Bennett led a coalition of right-wingers, centrists, doves and Islamists from the Raam faction, which made history by becoming the first Arab party to support an Israeli government since the Jewish state’s creation.
But the alliance, united by its desire to oust Netanyahu and break a damaging cycle of inconclusive elections, was imperilled from the outset by its ideological divides.
Bennett said the final straw was a failure to renew a measure that ensures the roughly 475,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank live under Israeli law.
Some Arab lawmakers in the coalition refused to back a bill they said marked a de facto endorsement of a 55-year occupation that has forced West Bank Palestinians to live under Israeli rule.
For Bennett, a staunch supporter of settlements, allowing the so-called West Bank law to expire was intolerable. Dissolving parliament before its June 30 expiration temporarily renews the measure.
In the weeks before his coalition unraveled, Bennett sought to highlight its successes, including what he characterised as proof that ideological rivals can govern together.
“No one should give up their positions, but it is certainly possible and necessary to put aside, for a while, ideological debates and take care of the economy, security and future of the citizens of Israel,” he said in his farewell address Wednesday, which did not rule out a eventual return to politics.
Bennett will stay on as alternate prime minister responsible for Iran policy, as world powers take steps to revive stalled talks on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Israel opposes a restoration of the 2015 agreement that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
Lapid will retain his foreign minister title while serving as Israel’s 14th premier. He will find himself under an early microscope, with US President Joe Biden due in Jerusalem in two weeks.


Three Israelis, 64 Palestinians wounded in West Bank clashes

Three Israelis, 64 Palestinians wounded in West Bank clashes
Updated 30 June 2022

Three Israelis, 64 Palestinians wounded in West Bank clashes

Three Israelis, 64 Palestinians wounded in West Bank clashes
  • Clashes left 64 injured Palestinians, most of them suffering from effects of tear gas inhalation

JERUSALEM: Three Israelis and dozens of Palestinians were wounded in overnight clashes after militants fired on a Jewish pilgrimage to a shrine in the occupied West Bank, the army said Thursday.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said it treated 64 injured Palestinians, most of them suffering from the effects of tear gas inhalation.
The Israeli army “escorted the entrance of hundreds of worshippers to Joseph’s Tomb in the city of Nablus. During the event, heavy fire was shot at the worshippers by Palestinian gunmen,” it said in a statement.
Two pilgrims and a commander of the army’s Shomron Brigade were injured, the statement said.
The tomb, which is believed by some to be the last resting place of the biblical patriarch Joseph, is a flashpoint for violence in the West Bank, and revered as a holy site by some Muslims.
The Israeli army provides security for monthly pilgrimages by Israelis. In May, a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in clashes at the tomb.
The army said it had arrested 12 people in separate operations across the West Bank on Wednesday night, the latest raids in a crackdown triggered by intensifying violence.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed since late March, mainly in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Israeli security forces have responded with near-daily raids in the West Bank.
Forty-eight Palestinians have been killed, mostly in the West Bank — among them attackers and suspected militants but also non-combatants, including Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli army fire while covering a raid in Jenin, according to the United Nations.
Three Israeli Arab attackers have also been killed since late March.


Jordan’s PM confirms results of Aqaba gas leak investigation to be made public

Jordan’s PM confirms results of Aqaba gas leak investigation to be made public
According to the prime minister, authorities have reached the advanced stages of the investigation. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 June 2022

Jordan’s PM confirms results of Aqaba gas leak investigation to be made public

Jordan’s PM confirms results of Aqaba gas leak investigation to be made public
  • At least 13 people were killed, and 250 others were hospitalized when a chlorine tank exploded after a crane dropped it at the Red Sea port of Aqaba, releasing a large plume of toxic yellow smoke

Jordan’s Prime Minister Bishr Khasawneh confirmed on Wednesday that the results of the investigation into the deadly gas leak in Aqaba will be shared “transparently and objectively,” state news agency Petra reported. 
At least 13 people were killed, and 250 others were hospitalized when a chlorine tank exploded after a crane dropped it at the Red Sea port of Aqaba, releasing a large plume of toxic yellow smoke. 

At least 13 people were killed, and 250 others were hospitalized when a chlorine tank exploded after a crane dropped it at the Red Sea port of Aqaba, releasing a large plume of toxic yellow smoke.  (AFP)

 According to the prime minister, authorities have reached the advanced stages of the investigation and are working “around the clock to reach full results about the incident,” the Petra report added. 
 During the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Khasawneh also expressed condolences to the families of the Aqaba port victims and wished a speedy recovery for those injured.
 He praised the efforts of state institutions in containing the gas leak, adding that all efforts were done under the supervision and guidance of King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II. 
 King Abdullah II had on Tuesday called for those responsible for the leak to be held accountable, stressing the need “to provide transparent explanations to the public after investigations conclude, as well as identifying shortcomings and holding those responsible to account by law,” according to a statement by his palace.