Occupation, sanctions, Israeli and Turkish aggression intensify the suffering of the Syrian people

Syria has suggested that “cross border humanitarian aid” to rebel-held areas is discriminatory and a violation of sovereignty, and is demanding that all foreign aid to the country should flow through the government

December 22, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
“Solving the crisis in Syria requires a move by the UN Security Council to stop Israeli recurrent attacks, remove the illegitimate blockade, and support the early recovery projects,” Bassam Sabbagh asserted. (Photo: UNICEF/Johnny Shahan)

Syria’s permanent representative to the UN, Bassam Sabbagh, told the UN security council on Wednesday, December 21, that “solving the crisis in Syria requires” that it “takes measures against the continued presence of foreign troops on the Syrian lands, Israel’s recurrent airstrikes inside its territory,” and unilateral sanctions imposed by the US and its allies.

“Solving the crisis in Syria requires a move by the UN Security Council to stop Israeli recurrent attacks, remove the illegitimate blockade, and support the early recovery projects,” Sabbagh asserted. 

There are hundreds of US personnel stationed in north-eastern Syria and at the illegal military base in Al-Tanf. The Syrian government has also accused US forces of looting over USD 100 billion worth of Syrian oil, gas, and other natural resources. 

Sabbagh expressed surprise at widespread ignorance about US occupation forces and US-backed militias looting Syrian oil resources and agricultural products such as wheat. 

Israel, which has carried out hundreds of airstrikes inside Syria since the beginning of the war, has caused massive damage to the country’s infrastructure and killed dozens of people. Earlier this week, Israeli forces bombed regions around Damascus, wounding two Syrian soldiers. 

Turkey too has invaded Syria several times over the last few years and now controls a large part of its territory. The country has also been accused of providing military and political support to anti-government fighters. Recently, Turkey launched air and artillery strikes, causing deaths and destruction of essential service delivery infrastructure, such as the water supply.  

A UN special rapporteur has noted that unilateral sanctions imposed by the US and the EU have deprived Syrians of necessary medicines, medical equipment, and other commodities essential for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged nation.  

Millions of Syrians suffering 

During his briefing to the UN SC, Geir Pedersen, UN special envoy to Syria, claimed that the humanitarian situation in the country has deteriorated and that conditions in non-government-controlled areas are much worse than those in the government-controlled areas. 

Pedersen claimed that over 14.6 million Syrians require some kind of support to face their daily needs, and that this number is 1.2 million higher than last year. He also said that this number is further expected to rise next year. 

Pedersen noted that more than 90% of Syrians are forced to live below the poverty line, and at least 80% of them are food insecure. He also noted that basic services and resources such as electricity, fuel, water, and healthcare are also scarce. The unavailability of fuel has forced the Syrian government to declare holidays for days and weeks as a means to save energy. 

“This bleak humanitarian and economic picture is bad enough; add to it the continued armed conflict and the dangers of military escalation, and the potential for catastrophic deterioration is all too real,” Pedersen said. 

Thousands of Syrians have been killed and more than half of its 20 million population has been displaced due to the war, which has continued for over a decade. Around 7 million Syrians have been forced to flee the country. The Syrian economy has lost more than 90% of its value, according to the UN, and most of its oil industry and agriculture have been destroyed. 

Contentious issue of across the border foreign aid 

Pedersen proposed a six point agenda to address the economic and political problems in the country. This included increased international aid,  increased engagement with ordinary Syrians, and intra-Syrian dialogue as per UNSC resolution 2254 (2015), which emphasized that a political solution is the only way to resolve the Syrian crisis. He also asserted the need for a continuation of “cross border humanitarian aid” to help people in rebel-held regions.  

While Sabbagh welcomed the UN’s role in the country, he strongly objected to the continuation of “cross-border humanitarian aid,” claiming that it was intended to be “a temporary measure taken under exceptional circumstances.” He also underlined the hypocrisy of the US and EU, which wanted to continue with this “selective and discriminative mechanism” in the name of reducing human suffering, but refused to either provide enough funds to Syria or to lift their unilateral sanctions on the country, which has caused the immense suffering of ordinary Syrians.

Highlighting the underfunded aid program in Syria, Martin Griffith, under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, claimed in the UNSC that only 43% of its humanitarian response plan was funded in 2022. 

The cross border aid mechanism was constituted in 2014 when a large part of Syria was under the control of opposition forces and there was a lack of clarity about the presence of central authority. However, ever since the Bashar al-Assad government has regained control over contested territories, it has claimed that the mechanism violates Syrian sovereignty and wants all aid to flow through the government. 

A proposal to extend the mechanism in the UNSC in June was vetoed by Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government. The mechanism was conditionally extended for six months and is due for renewal next month.