Mr. Pedersen noted that Syrians continue to suffer deeply. Just last month, they had to deal with airstrikes, shelling on the front lines, an outbreak of hostilities in the northeast, continued violence in the south, and a number of increasing number of security incidents related to drug trafficking and terrorist attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh).
In recent days, an attempted escape by thousands of detainees suspected of being affiliated with ISIL in Hasakah has sparked major clashes, with airstrikes killing dozens. According to the Special Envoy, the Syrian Democratic Forces who run the prison have regained control and most ISIL fighters appear to have surrendered.
Despite this positive development, Mr. Pedersen remains very concerned about the safety and security of the civilians caught up in this situation, many of whom have been displaced. “This episode brings back terrible memories of the prison breaks that fueled the initial rise of ISIL in 2014 and 2015,” he said.
For the Special Envoy, it is “a clear message” on the importance of uniting to combat the threat of international terrorist groups and to resolve the conflict in which terrorism inevitably thrives.
Photo: UN/Eskinder Debebe
Millions need humanitarian aid
Meanwhile, the tragedy of the Syrian people is getting worse, he said. Around 14 million civilians are in need of humanitarian assistance today. More than 12 million are still displaced – and many are currently facing freezing winter conditions.
Tens of thousands of people are detained, abducted or missing. Syria’s economy has collapsed. Crime and smuggling are flourishing. Education is fragmented and severely degraded, as are institutions and infrastructure in all areas.
“The country remains de facto divided and society is deeply fractured. Syrians see no concrete progress towards a political solution,” Pedersen said.
During visits last month to Tehran and Doha, the Special Envoy continued to engage with all parties to the conflict.
The ultimate goal, he explained, remains to create an environment in which a constitutional political process can be agreed and elections can take place under UN supervision.
As part of that process, Mr Pederson is trying to reconvene the Constitutional Committee but he said the committee’s work “remains disappointing” so far. “It’s a huge challenge to make real progress that can make a difference for the Syrian people, but that’s what we have to do,” he concluded.
Helping Syrians weather a harsh winter
At a Security Council meeting specifically devoted to the humanitarian situation in Syria on Thursday, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths regretted that the humanitarian community was unable to provide the full assistance needed by Syrians facing a harsh winter.
“People shouldn’t have to suffer like this every winter. We could and should give them the support they need. Different housing, even if it’s temporary,” Mr. Griffiths told council members. “But, with current funding, we can only help half of the more than 4 million people across Syria who need protection from the elements and basic services for survival.”
The aid chief also noted that the economic crisis continues to worsen, with food becoming more and more expensive.
However, despite these disheartening circumstances, he believes humanitarians can continue to make a difference through smart funding and creative humanitarian efforts.
He took as an example early recovery projects to support food production, in order to reduce dependence on food aid.
Mr. Griffiths also recalled that humanitarian agencies continue to reach people in need in northwestern Syria through cross-border deliveries,
“Civilians need food, medicine and other vital items. They must have access to basic services,” he concluded. “To achieve this, we need to expand access. We need funds for sustainable humanitarian operations. We need to reach more people with immediate life-saving assistance. And we need to scale up early recovery programs.”