Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News

Exclusive Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News
“We are extremely worried,” Mona Juul, Norway’s permanent representative to the UN, told Arab News in an exclusive interview in New York. (AFP)
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Updated 15 December 2022

Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News

Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News
  • Norway is “working tirelessly” to renew the cross-border aid mechanism for Syria, says country’s permanent representative to UN
  • Along with Ireland, Norway is the current penholder of the Syrian humanitarian file at the Security Council

NEW YORK CITY: While the world’s media may have stopped counting the dead and injured in the Syrian conflict, the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and the second largest number of internally displaced people in the world both drive home the point that the war is far from over.

Syria continues to endure one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line. According to the World Food Program, some 14.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance to survive — an increase of 1.2 million compared to last year.

The collapsing economy coupled with a looming global food shortage as a consequence of the war in Ukraine have added new layers of complexity to the situation. Now, the WFP warns, the threat of famine is knocking at Syria’s door.

“We are extremely worried,” Mona Juul, Norway’s permanent representative to the UN, told Arab News in an exclusive interview in New York.




According to the World Food Program, some 14.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance to survive. (AFP)

“We have been worried for many years. But now the situation seems to be continuously deteriorating. And of course, with winter coming up, that adds to the suffering of millions and millions of Syrian people that are in dire need, in acute need, of humanitarian assistance.

“This is pretty much across the whole country. But of course, we are also very concerned about the situation in the northwest, outside the government-controlled area.”

Especially alarming is the condition of 4.4 million people in the opposition-held northwest of the country who rely on foreign aid to survive and who are now unsure whether there will be sufficient bread on the table come January.

That is when an increasingly fragile UN cross-border mechanism for delivering aid to Syria is set to expire and its renewal is up for a vote at the UN Security Council. Diplomats fear the regime’s ally Russia will use its veto to close the last remaining UN-facilitated aid gateway into Syria — Bab Al-Hawa on the Turkish border.

As the co-penholder of Syria’s humanitarian file in the Security Council, Norway, together with Ireland, is responsible for following up on the humanitarian situation in Syria by drafting resolutions, requesting emergency meetings, and organizing mission visits.

The cross-border mechanism was created in 2014 to allow for the delivery of UN aid directly to opposition-held areas of Syria.

International humanitarian law requires that all aid deliveries go through the host government. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tactic of treating humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war prompted the UNSC to approve the use of four aid crossings — from Jordan, Iraq, and two from Turkiye.




Syria has suffered years of war sparked by anti-government protests during the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East. (AFP)

Until Dec. 2019, the UNSC was able to renew the mandate for these crossings. However, in Jan. 2020, Russia used its veto to force the closure of all but one crossing: Bab Al-Hawa.

If this last remaining crossing is closed, humanitarian agencies fear an alternative would be near impossible to find.

“And that’s why we are working tirelessly to make sure that we can extend the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution that allows cross-border humanitarian assistance at Bab Al-Hawa,” said Juul.

Since 2020, the renewal has become the subject of much delicate negotiations, at a time when diplomatic channels between Russia and the US have been all but shut, impacting every issue on the UNSC agenda.

“It is no secret that every time we have to renew this cross-border mechanism, the starting point is that at least one member of the Security Council does not want to have this resolution and this mechanism,” said Juul. “That has been the starting point since the mechanism was established back in 2014.”

Moscow argues the international aid operation violates Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Since Syria has been “liberated,” it says all aid destined for the north should go via the capital, Damascus.

Although internal shipments from Damascus to opposition-held areas would provide a welcome addition to the cross-border lifeline, Juul says they are no substitute. Even if deployed regularly, such convoys could not replicate the size and scope of cross-border operations.

Although the UN says its internal aid delivery operations are conducted in a “transparent and principled” manner, aid agencies say assistance delivered to Damascus does not reach areas that oppose the Assad regime.

They accuse the government of deliberately withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war.




Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tactic of treating humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war prompted the UNSC to approve the use of four aid crossings. (AFP)

A recent investigation into the UN’s procurement operations in Syria, conducted by the Syrian Legal Development Program and the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks, found around 50 percent of UN procurement involves actors linked to the regime, many of them implicated in rights violations and war crimes.

Asked to comment on the report’s findings, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told Arab News the UN is “well aware of the challenges” posed by working in such contexts.

He said the UN is engaging with the authors of the report, and that UN teams in Syria continue “to try to improve” their methods.

“The other thing I would say is that there is an increase in terms of the value of items that are procured outside of Syria, but there are items that can only be procured in-country, (such as) telephones, fuel, and so on.

INNUMBERS

• 4.1m People in northwestern Syria in need of humanitarian assistance.

• 80% Syrians receiving cross-border aid who are women and children.

•* 1/3 Proportion of children under the age of 5 who are undernourished.

• 800 Average number of trucks delivering supplies via Turkiye per month.

“It is also important to note that we operate in Syria under the same rules that we operate in every country, in terms of currency exchange and vendors.

“So we are well aware of the challenges posed by us working in many countries, including Syria, and I think the general effort has been one of trying continuously to improve how we work and how we manage the global taxpayers’ money.”

For her part, Juul underscored her country’s advocacy for Syria is anchored in purely humanitarian values. “Our very, very strong argument is that this is not about aiding the opposition or helping the other side and not the government,” she said.

“We are (motivated) purely by the humanitarian imperative to help the people. It’s the people of Syria that we care about and that goes back to a very strong humanitarian tradition in Norway. We are almost always there when there is a humanitarian crisis and we want to help.”

That long tradition was at the heart of Norway’s message when it campaigned for a seat at the Security Council two years ago, and also expressed its willingness to take up the Syrian file.

“We have always had a pretty large portion of our foreign assistance purely for humanitarian work,” said Juul.

“So for us, going into the council, bringing that tradition with us, having for a long time been one of the largest humanitarian contributors to Syria, not only per capita, but in real terms, and having seen the merit of the cross-border operation, we were very much willing to take up that difficult file and Ireland the same.”

Long before it became a wealthy oil and gas producer, Norway had at one time been an aid recipient, and is no stranger to invasion, war and displacement.

“A third of the Norwegian population migrated to America to find livelihoods because we didn’t find it at home. Norway is a very cold country. It’s difficult to survive during winter if you’re poor. So we migrated,” said Juul.

“And then we were occupied by the Germans for five years. We were on the other, aid recipient end. We received Marshall aid from America. We know what it’s like to need aid. And then, of course, we now have the resources to contribute.

“So, there is this strong solidarity with the underdogs, those who are suffering. This is what drives us. We are not being naive about the political complexity in Syria, but we really see no alternative to continuing with the cross-border operation.”




Many Syrians have fled the war, heading to destination like Jordan, Turkiye and Europe. (AFP)

In the run-up to the last renewal vote in July, intensive negotiations went on behind closed doors. Juul and her Irish counterpart at that time, Geraldine Nason Byrne, were seen rushing between UN chambers trying to rally Security Council members to reauthorize Bab Al-Hawa.

Securing the coming renewal vote is unlikely to be any easier.

“One needs to work very hard in order to get it renewed, every time,” Juul told Arab News. “This has been a continuous challenge for the Security Council to be able to uphold this crucial mechanism.”

Although Norway and Ireland’s Security Council tenure is coming to a close by the year’s end, Juul vowed to continue to “do as much as possible to prepare the ground for extension.”

She draws hope from the successful renewal they achieved in July.




They accuse the government of deliberately withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war. (AFP)

“We had to go through a veto. It was really tough negotiations mainly between us and the Russians. But we managed in the end to find — I will not even call it a compromise — we found a way to agree that we extend it to January, but with a very clear intention that there will be another extension in six months.”

She added: “That is what diplomacy is all about. I dare say it is what diplomacy is all about when the situation is as it is.

“We cannot stop relating to those we disagree with on other files. Norway has been very clear on condemning Russia’s invasion and the war on Ukraine. But, at the same time, we see that it’s very important that the Security Council is not paralyzed on all the other files.

“And I think, so far, the council has proven that we have been able to do that.”

She added: “We also worked very much together with the other elected members. And we feel that this is an elected-member resolution. We have 100 percent support from all the elected members. And as we say, when the E10 agrees, we are the sixth veto power in the council.”


Heads of Arab and pan-African parliament discuss cooperation on mutual interests  

Heads of Arab and pan-African parliament discuss cooperation on mutual interests  
Updated 31 January 2023

Heads of Arab and pan-African parliament discuss cooperation on mutual interests  

Heads of Arab and pan-African parliament discuss cooperation on mutual interests  

The President of the Arab Parliament, Adel bin Abd al-Rahman al-Asoumi, met with the President of the Pan-African Parliament, Chief Fortune Charumbira on Tuesday.  

The officials met on the sidelines of the Conference of the Union of Councils of Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Algeria, a statement by the Arab Parliament said. 

The two sides reviewed regional and international interests, and agreed on full coordination in international forums in support of all Arab and African matters.  

The Speaker of the Arab Parliament affirmed that the Arab and African regions possess many common denominators that contribute to supporting Arab and African matters, especially the Palestinian issue and the Libyan crisis.


Three Al-Qaeda suspects killed in Yemen drone strike: officials

Three Al-Qaeda suspects killed in Yemen drone strike: officials
Updated 31 January 2023

Three Al-Qaeda suspects killed in Yemen drone strike: officials

Three Al-Qaeda suspects killed in Yemen drone strike: officials
  • The attack was carried out on a car in Marib province

YEMEN, Marib: Three alleged Al-Qaeda militants were killed in a suspected US drone strike in northeastern Yemen on Monday, local government officials said.
The attack was carried out on a car in Marib province, the scene of heavy fighting in 2021 in Yemen's long-running civil war, the officials said.
“Three Al-Qaeda members were killed in a strike by a drone that is believed to be American,” a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The three were in a car in Wadi Obeida when they were targeted by the suspected US strike that killed them immediately.”
A second Marib government official confirmed the strike on Al-Qaeda militants and the death toll. There was no immediate comment from Washington.
The United States considers Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch - Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) - among the most dangerous branches of the global jihadist network.
AQAP, and other militants loyal to Daesh, have thrived in the chaos of Yemen’s civil war.
AQAP has carried out operations against both the Houthis and government forces as well as sporadic attacks abroad.
Its leaders have been targeted by a US drone war for more than two decades, although the number of strikes has dropped off in recent years.
The conflict in Yemen has since killed tens of thousands of people and triggered what the United Nations terms the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with millions of people displaced.


After drought, winter rains revive Iraq’s famed marshlands

After drought, winter rains revive Iraq’s famed marshlands
Updated 31 January 2023

After drought, winter rains revive Iraq’s famed marshlands

After drought, winter rains revive Iraq’s famed marshlands
  • raq has faced three consecutive years of severe drought and scorching heat, with temperatures regularly exceeding 50 degrees Celsius

Chibayish: Black buffaloes wade through the waters of Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes, leisurely chewing on reeds. After years of drought, winter rains have brought some respite to herders and livestock in the famous wetlands.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the marshes were parched and dusty last summer by drought in the climate-stressed country and by reduced flow from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers due to dams built upstream in Turkiye and Iran.
Winter brings seasonal rains, offering relief in marshes like those of Huwaizah — which straddles the border with Iran — and Chibayish, located in nearby Dhi Qar province.
Among the reeds of Chibayish, buffalo farmer Rahim Daoud now uses a stick to punt his boat across an expanse of water.
“This summer, it was dirt here; there was no water,” said the 58-year-old. “With the rain that has fallen, the water level has risen.”
Last summer, photographers traveled to the Huwaizah and Chibayish marshes to document the disappearance of large portions of the wetlands, observing vast expanses of dry and cracked soil dotted with yellowed shrubs.
In October, an official in the impoverished rural province of Dhi Qar said that in the previous six months, 1,200 families had left the marshes and other agricultural areas of southern Iraq and more than 2,000 buffaloes had died.
Iraq has faced three consecutive years of severe drought and scorching heat, with temperatures regularly exceeding 50 degrees Celsius during the summer of 2022.
“There is a gradual improvement,” Hussein Al-Kenani said after the recent rains.
Kenani, who heads the governmental center in charge of protecting the wetlands, said rainwater collected in canals and rivers has been redirected to the marshes.
“The water level in Chibayish’s swamps has increased by more than 50 centimeters compared with December and by more than 30 centimeters for the Huwaizah swamps,” Kenani said.
In July, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization deplored the “unprecedented low water levels” in the marshes, highlighting “the disastrous impact” for more than 6,000 families, whose buffaloes and livelihoods were being lost.
The relief of rainfall early this month was welcomed by the UN agency, which noted in a statement that in the Chibayish region “salinity levels decreased” to the point where people and animals could again drink the water.
“This has had a great positive impact, especially on buffalo herders,” it said.
While the crisis has been relieved for now, there are fears about the longer-term fate of the threatened wetland habitat.
“There is not enough water coming from the Turkish side,” said Jassim Assadi, head of environmental group Nature Iraq, who added that Iraq’s dams upstream from the marshes “do not have an adequate and sufficient reservoir for the rest of the year.”
“The rains alone are not enough,” he said, voicing fears about another looming “problem next summer.”


Sunni cleric’s aide arrested in restive southeast Iran

Sunni cleric’s aide arrested in restive southeast Iran
Updated 31 January 2023

Sunni cleric’s aide arrested in restive southeast Iran

Sunni cleric’s aide arrested in restive southeast Iran
  • Abdolmajid Moradzehi was accused of “manipulating public opinion”

TEHRAN: An aide to Sunni Muslim cleric Molavi Abdol Hamid, an influential leader of Iran’s ethnic Baluchi minority, was arrested in the restive southeastern city of Zahedan late Monday, state media said.
Abdolmajid Moradzehi was accused of “manipulating public opinion” and “communicating on several occasions with foreign individuals and media outlets,” the official IRNA news agency said.
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province, which is home to the ethnic Baluch minority and had been the site of often deadly violence even before nationwide protests erupted in September over the death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.
On September 30 last year, dozens of people, including members of the security forces, were killed when thousands took to the streets after Friday prayers at the city’s Makki mosque, headed by Abdol Hamid.
They were protesting the alleged rape of a 15-year-old-girl in custody in the port city of Chabahar by a local police commander.
As the protests raged on for weeks and months, Iranian officials were critical of Abdol Hamid, describing his prayer sermons as “provocative.”
“If there were no provocative remarks in the sermons, we would have seen peace in Zahedan,” Iran’s deputy interior minister Majid Mirahmadi said in late October when asked about the persistent unrest.
State media characterised the unrest as attacks by “extremists” on police stations. Abdol Hamid said security forces “shot at people” around the mosque, amid public anger over the alleged rape.
Zahedan is one of the few cities in Shiite-majority Iran which is mainly Sunni.


Carrier Emirates test flies Boeing 777 on sustainable fuel

Carrier Emirates test flies Boeing 777 on sustainable fuel
Updated 31 January 2023

Carrier Emirates test flies Boeing 777 on sustainable fuel

Carrier Emirates test flies Boeing 777 on sustainable fuel
  • Airplane and engine manufacturers have been designing more-efficient models, in part to help keep down costs of jet fuel — one of the biggest expenses airlines face

DUBAI: Long-haul carrier Emirates successfully flew a Boeing 777 on a test flight Monday with one of its two engines entirely powered by so-called sustainable aviation fuel. This comes as carriers worldwide try to lessen their carbon footprint.
Flight 2646 flew for just under an hour over the coastline of the United Arab Emirates, after taking off from Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, and heading out into the Arabian Gulf before circling to land. The second of the plane’s General Electric Co. engines ran on conventional jet fuel for safety.
“This flight is a milestone moment for Emirates and a positive step for our industry as we work collectively to address one of our biggest challenges — reducing our carbon footprint,” Adel Al-Redha, Emirates’ chief operation officer, said in a statement.
Emirates, a state-owned airline under Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, described the sustainable fuel as a blend “that mirrored the qualities of jet fuel.” It included fuel from Neste, a Finnish firm, and Virent, a Madison, Wisconsin-based company.
Virent describes itself as using plant-based sugars to make the compounds needed for sustainable jet fuel, while Neste’s fuel comes from vegetable oils and animal fats. Those fuels reduce the release of heat-trapping carbon dioxide typically burned off by engines in flight.

An Emirates Boeing 777-300ER is filled with sustainable aviation fuel in preparation for a milestone demonstration flight on Jan. 30, 2023 at Dubai airport. (AFP)

Aviation releases only one-sixth the amount of carbon dioxide produced by cars and trucks, according to World Resources Institute, a nonprofit research group based in Washington. However, airplanes are used by far fewer people per day — meaning aviation is a higher per-capita source of greenhouse-gas emissions.
Airplane and engine manufacturers have been designing more-efficient models, in part to help keep down costs of jet fuel — one of the biggest expenses airlines face. Emirates, for instance, used over 5.7 million tons of jet fuel last year alone, costing it $3.7 billion out of its $17 billion in annual expenses.
But analysts suggest sustainable fuels can be three times or more the cost of jet fuel, likely putting ticket prices even higher as aviation restarts following the lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
It wasn’t immediately clear how much the fuel used in the Emirates’ test on Monday cost per barrel. Jet fuel cost on average $146 a barrel at the end of last week, according to S&P Global Platts.
The UAE, a major oil producer and OPEC member, is to host the next United Nations climate negotiations, or COP28, beginning in November. Already, the seven sheikhdom federation has been criticized for nominating the CEO of Abu Dhabi’s state oil company to lead the UN negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties — where COP gets its name.