UN says new dynamic on Syria could create ‘much-needed momentum’ for progress

UN says new dynamic on Syria could create ‘much-needed momentum’ for progress
Over 70 percent of Syria’s population is now in need of humanitarian assistance. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 31 May 2023
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UN says new dynamic on Syria could create ‘much-needed momentum’ for progress

UN says new dynamic on Syria could create ‘much-needed momentum’ for progress
  • Real action must now match recent diplomacy, urges envoy Geir Pedersen
  • Safe return of refugees and fate of missing, detainees remain critical issues

NEW YORK: The recent diplomatic moves on Syria need to be matched with real action, the UN special envoy for Syria told a Security Council meeting on Tuesday.

Geir Pedersen said the Syrian people continue to suffer “on a massive scale,” and “while they have observed recent diplomatic developments, they have not yet seen any improvement in the reality of their lives, whether they live inside Syria or outside Syria.”

Only “confidence building (measures) on the ground” and the resumption of the political process to end the war would signal that “the current opportunity has been seized.”

Pedersen welcomed the recent dialogues with the Syrian government that took place in Amman, Jeddah and Moscow, which focused on several key issues. These include the humanitarian situation and safe access for aid delivery, a dignified and voluntary return of refugees, reconstruction, restoring Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and countering terrorist groups.

He said these were all concerns at the heart of UN Resolution 2254 and “common attention to these themes and points could present a real opportunity to move forward.”

If such issues begin to be addressed, even if incrementally, Pedersen said this new dynamic could create a “much-needed momentum.”

He said he “can only welcome” the recent intensified regional consultations and work in the direction of finding ways in which to unblock progress on Syria.

“After all, even minimal progress on some issues of resolution 2254 would require the confidence and resources of many different players and serious actions too.”

This month has seen the Arab League officially welcome Syria’s government back into its fold. This ended over a decade of exile from the pan-Arab body over President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on protests which spiraled into a war that killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.

Pedersen said that he reiterated, during his engagements with Syrian, regional and international interlocutors, his appreciation of “the dangers of the status quo, both for the Syrian people and for regional and other actors, who want to curb instability emanating across Syrian borders, including from narcotics, and who continue to host millions of Syrian refugees.”

In order for there to be real confidence building and a serious resumption of the political process, however, Pedersen emphasized the importance of work toward a safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees, that takes into account their security and economic fears.

Attention to this issue is important “because it tells us that if the Syrian government were to start to address in a more systematic manner the protection concerns of the displaced, working closely with the United Nations, and if donors were to help the United Nations to do more to address the concerns all Syrians have about livelihoods, then this could help to do what we all say we want to do — build confidence, and begin to change realities on the ground for all Syrians — not only the displaced.

“It could help bring about movement towards a more safe, calm and neutral environment in Syria, and it could help alleviate hardship inside the country.”

The UN envoy also emphasized that addressing the fate of over 130,000 missing people and detainees in Syria’s prisons remains a “core issue for moving forward in Syria.”

“It is hard to see how there could be genuine confidence-building without some progress on this issue, which impacts nearly all Syrians and is fundamental to families, communities, and repairing Syria’s social fabric.”

He urged countries to support the UN’s efforts toward the establishment of an institution dedicated to the search for missing Syrians.

Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, deputy director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council that Syria must remain a “global priority.”

Over 70 percent of Syria’s population is now in need of humanitarian assistance. For the first time in the history of the conflict, 15.3 million people, across every sub-district in Syria, are experiencing some degree of humanitarian stress, Mudawi said.

The twin earthquakes earlier this year have added to this dire humanitarian situation, displacing more than 330,000 people and leaving thousands more without access to basic services and livelihoods.

She called for greater solidarity and urged countries to increase humanitarian funding, adding that while efforts are ongoing to reach a political solution “we must ensure that the urgent needs of women, men and children of Syria — life-saving aid and early recovery — are prioritized and adequately resourced.”

“They are counting on your support to stay the course,” she told council members.


Kuwaiti PM says Iraqi ruling on maritime navigation contains ‘historical fallacies’

Kuwaiti PM says Iraqi ruling on maritime navigation contains ‘historical fallacies’
Updated 22 September 2023
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Kuwaiti PM says Iraqi ruling on maritime navigation contains ‘historical fallacies’

Kuwaiti PM says Iraqi ruling on maritime navigation contains ‘historical fallacies’
  • A deal regulating navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway was reached by Iraq and Kuwait in 2012
  • But Iraq's Supreme Court earlier this month ruled the agreement was unconstitutional

Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Sabah described an Iraqi ruling on regulating navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway between the two states as containing “historical fallacies.”

In remarks carried by state news agency KUNA early on Thursday, Sheikh Ahmad also called on Iraq to take “concrete, decisive and urgent measures” to address the ruling.
The prime minister’s comments came during a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart, Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, on the sidelines of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Tensions have been rising between Kuwait and Iraq after the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court earlier this month ruled an agreement regulating navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway was unconstitutional. The court said the law that ratified the accord should have been approved by two-thirds of parliament.

The land border between the two was demarcated by the United Nations in 1993 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but it did not cover the length of their maritime boundaries, and this was left for the two oil producers to resolve.
An agreement between the two nations was reached in 2012 and ratified by each of their legislative bodies in 2013.
Sheikh Ahmad also called for the complete demarcation of Kuwaiti-Iraqi maritime borders “in accordance with international law,” KUNA added, echoing a Wednesday call by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the United States.
Iraqi parliament speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi on Thursday met with a delegation from the Kuwaiti national assembly and emphasized “the importance of respecting and implementing bilateral agreements that are in the interest of the two brotherly peoples,” a statement from his office said.
The statement did not refer specifically to the Khor Abdullah waterway.

 


Sudan army chief warns UN that war could spill over in region, seeks action against RSF backers

Sudan army chief warns UN that war could spill over in region, seeks action against RSF backers
Updated 22 September 2023
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Sudan army chief warns UN that war could spill over in region, seeks action against RSF backers

Sudan army chief warns UN that war could spill over in region, seeks action against RSF backers
  • Army chief Burhan asks UN to take action against RSF’s backers
  • RSF leader says ready for cease-fire and comprehensive talks
  • War has killed over 7,500 people, displaced more than 5 million

UNITED NATIONS: The heads of Sudan’s rival military factions gave competing addresses to the United Nations on Thursday, one from the podium at UN headquarters in New York and the other in a rare video recording from an undisclosed location.

Army leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, speaking at the United Nations, called on the international community to designate the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as a terrorist organization and to counter its sponsors outside Sudan’s borders, warning that months of war could spill over in the region.

RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, said in a video message that his forces were fully prepared for a cease-fire and comprehensive political talks to end the conflict.

Most of Hemedti’s recent communications have been audio messages, and his whereabouts have been a source of speculation.

In the video released on Thursday shortly before Burhan spoke, Hemedti appeared in military uniform, seated behind a desk with a Sudanese national flag behind him as he read out his speech. His location was not clear.

“Today we renew our commitment to the peaceful process to put a halt to this war,” Hemedti said. “The RSF are fully prepared for a cease-fire throughout Sudan to allow the passage of humanitarian aid ... and to start serious and comprehensive political talks.”

 

 

Both sides blamed the other for starting the war that erupted in mid-April in Khartoum and has spread to other parts of the country including the western region of Darfur, displacing more than 5 million people and threatening to destabilize the region.

Saudi Arabia and the United States have tried to secure a lasting cease-fire in Sudan but the process stalled amid parallel international initiatives in Africa and the Middle East.

Tentacles of Wagner group

Burhan, the de facto ruler of Sudan since a 2021 coup, alluded to the rival RSF'S ties with Wagner, the Russian mercenary group hit by Western sanctions over alleged abuses in Africa.
“The danger of this war is now a threat to regional and international peace and security as those rebels have sought the support of outlaws and terrorist groups from different countries in the region and the world,” Burhan said.
“This is like the spark of war, a war that will spill over to other countries in the region,” he said.
“Regional and international interference to support these groups is crystal clear by now. This means that this is the first spark that will burn the region, and will have a direct impact on regional and international peace and security.”
War broke out on April 15 after the collapse of a plan to integrate the army and the RSF.
The fighting in Sudan has killed at least 7,500 people, according to the NGO Acled, and displaced some five million people, dealing a new, devastating blow to efforts to bring democracy to Sudan.
Burhan has increasingly been traveling around the world in what are seen as efforts to burnish his legitimacy.
At the United Nations, he urged world powers to designate the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, as a terrorist group.
“They have committed all sorts of crimes that give grounds for such a designation,” he said.
“Those who have supported killing, burning, raping, forced displacement, looting, stealing, torture, trafficking of arms and drugs, bringing mercenaries or recruiting children — all such crimes necessitate accountability and punishment,” he said.
The United States earlier this month imposed sanctions on RSF leaders including senior commander Abdelrahim Hamdan Daglo, the brother of the group’s leader, over alleged abuses including the killing of the governor of West Darfur.
But the United States and other Western powers have also been strongly critical of Burhan.
Alongside RSF leader Daglo, Burhan in 2021 sidelined the civilian leadership that had been part of a transitional power-sharing deal following mass protests that brought down longtime dictator Omar Al-Bashir.
“We are still committed to our previous pledges to transfer power to the people of Sudan with great national consensus and consent,” he said.
“The armed forces would leave politics for once and for all.”
 

 


Syria’s Assad steps out of diplomatic freeze with high-level China trip

Syria’s Assad steps out of diplomatic freeze with high-level China trip
Updated 22 September 2023
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Syria’s Assad steps out of diplomatic freeze with high-level China trip

Syria’s Assad steps out of diplomatic freeze with high-level China trip
  • Talks with Xi Jinping to focus on Syrian reconstruction
  • He will also attend opening ceremony of Asian Games

JEDDAH: Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday began his first visit to China since 2004 and his latest attempt to end more than a decade of diplomatic isolation under Western sanctions.

Assad arrived in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou aboard an Air China plane in heavy fog, which Chinese state media said “added to the atmosphere of mystery.” Assad last visited China in 2004 to meet then-President Hu Jintao. It was the first visit by a Syrian head of state to China since the countries established diplomatic ties in 1956.

China — like Syria’s main allies Russia and Iran — maintained those ties even as other countries isolated Assad over his brutal crackdown of anti-government demonstrations that erupted in 2011, leading to a civil war that has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions more, and battered Syria’s infrastructure and industry.

Assad will attend Saturday’s Asian Games opening ceremony before leading a delegation in meetings in several Chinese cities. 

He meets President Xi Jinping on Friday.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing on June 23, 2004. He was the first Syrian head of state to visit China since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1956. (AFP Photo/File)

Being seen with China’s president at a regional gathering adds further legitimacy to Assad’s campaign to return to the world stage. 

Syria joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2022 and was welcomed back into the Arab League in May.

Faced with a crippled economy and little to show so far from his efforts to rebuild ties with Arab states, Assad is keen for financial support. 

But any Chinese or other investment in Syria risks entangling an investor in US sanctions under the 2020 Caesar Act that can freeze assets of anyone dealing with Syria.

“In his third term, Xi Jinping is seeking to openly challenge the US, so I don’t think it’s a surprise that he is willing to … host a leader like Assad,” said Alfred Wu, an associate professor at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. 

“It will further marginalize China in the world, but he doesn’t care about that.”

The visit comes as China expands its engagement in the Middle East. 

This year Beijing brokered a deal restoring ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

That detente was followed by Syria’s return to the Arab fold at a summit in Saudi Arabia in May, ending more than a decade of regional isolation.

Analysts expect Assad’s visit to China will focus, in part, on funds for reconstruction. 

“Assad intends for his trip to China to convey a sense of international legitimacy for his regime and paint a picture of looming Chinese support for reconstruction in Syria,” said Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East Institute at SOAS university in London.

Syria signed up to China’s vast Belt and Road trade and infrastructure initiative in January 2022.

Assad’s meeting with Xi “is expected to revolve around convincing China to aid Syria’s economic recovery,” said Haid Haid, of the Chatham House think tank in London. 

China pledged $2 billion in investments in Syria in 2017, but Haid said the funds had “yet to materialize.”

(With Agencies)


Mideast peace only possible when Palestinians get full rights: Abbas

Mideast peace only possible when Palestinians get full rights: Abbas
Updated 21 September 2023
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Mideast peace only possible when Palestinians get full rights: Abbas

Mideast peace only possible when Palestinians get full rights: Abbas
  • President urges states that have not yet recognized state of Palestine to do so immediately
  • Calls for peace conference that ‘may be last opportunity to salvage two-state solution’

LONDON: Those who think peace can prevail in the Middle East without the Palestinian people enjoying their full rights are mistaken, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday.
Addressing the UN General Assembly, he said Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory “violates the principles of international law and legitimacy while it races against time to change the historical, geographical and demographic reality on the ground, aimed at perpetuating the occupation and entrenching apartheid.”
Abbas said his country remains hopeful that the UN will be “able to implement its resolution demanding an end to the Israeli occupation of our territory and realizing the independence of the fully sovereign state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the borders of June 4, 1967.”
He added that Israel continues to attack his people, and its “army and its racist, terrorist settlers continue to intimidate and kill our people, to destroy homes and property to just steal our money and resources.”
Abbas said Israel “continues to assault our Islamic and Christian sacred sites … especially the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, which international legitimacy has recognized as an exclusive place of worship for Muslims alone.”
He added that Israel is digging tunnels under and around the mosque, threatening its full or partial collapse, “which would lead to an explosion with untold consequences.”
He urged the international community to assume its responsibilities in preserving the historic and legal status of Jerusalem and its holy sites.
He also requested an international peace conference in which all countries concerned with achieving peace in the Middle East would participate.
“I ask your esteemed organization and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to call for and undertake the necessary arrangements to convene this peace conference, which may be the last opportunity to salvage the two-state solution and to prevent the situation from deteriorating more seriously, and threatening the security and stability of our region and the entire world,” Abbas said.
He also urged states that have not yet recognized the state of Palestine to do so immediately. “I call for the state of Palestine to be admitted to full membership in the United Nations,” he said.
“There are two states that the entire world is talking about: Israel and Palestine. But only Israel is recognized. Why not Palestine?
“I can neither understand nor accept that some states …are reluctant to recognize the state of Palestine, which the UN has accepted as an observer state.
“These same states confirm every day that they support the two-state solution. But they recognize only one of these states, namely Israel. Why?”
 


Morocco sets aside nearly $12 bn for quake recovery

Morocco sets aside nearly $12 bn for quake recovery
Updated 21 September 2023
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Morocco sets aside nearly $12 bn for quake recovery

Morocco sets aside nearly $12 bn for quake recovery
  • Fund to be used for reconstruction in places affected by the September 8 earthquake

RABAT: Quake-hit Morocco’s government announced on Wednesday a budget of more than $11 billion for reconstruction, rehousing and socio-economic development of areas hit by the deadly disaster.
The 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit Al-Haouz province south of Marrakech on September 8, killing nearly 3,000 people and injuring thousands more.
The government said in a statement it was setting aside 120 billion dirhams ($11.7 billion) to help 4.2 million inhabitants affected by the quake over a period of five years.
The funds would be used to “rehouse affected people, reconstruct homes and restore infrastructure,” said the statement published at the end of a meeting chaired by King Mohammed VI.
The earthquake razed thousands of homes in central Morocco, including the High Atlas mountain range, forcing families to sleep out in the open with winter around the corner.