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Transcript of Press Conference by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura

20 November 2016

Damascus, 20 November 2016

SdeM: Thank you very much. First of all let me make some comments based on my meetings today, in particular with his Excellency Minister Mouallem, and the Deputy Foreign Minister Mekdad, and then take some questions as well.

I had, together with my colleagues and with the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, Ali Al-Za’tari and my own representative here Stephanie Koury, and my own colleagues including Deputy Special Envoy Ramzy Ramzy, an intense and I would say frankly, and it is not a diplomatic word, a useful meeting because we were able to exchange in a very frank but also useful way, our own points of view with Minister Mouallem.

I started frankly by expressing serious concern and indeed shared the general international outrage for the news coming from eastern Aleppo as reported by WHO and others of several hospitals being heavily bombed by aerial bombs

I also frankly expressed concern, which is only fair about the shelling which has been recently taking place here in Damascus and some of the bombing which has been killing the civilian victims, children actually, in western Aleppo as well.

It is fair to say that Minister Mouallem denied that any bombing of eastern Aleppo hospital had taken place. I frankly insisted in expressing my concern based on the reports that we have been receiving from WHO and other sources and requested that this aerial bombing of hospitals stop and that any military activity by all sides affecting civilian targets should be stopping not only in east or west Aleppo but everywhere else civilians are.

Since it is clear that the opinion or the point of view between Minister Mouallem and myself and many of my colleagues on the issue about the aerial bombing of hospitals exist a difference of opinion I would on second thoughts, in consultation actually with the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ali Al-Za’tari make a recommendation frankly, and the recommendation will come after you have done your interpretation.

Well, since we do have a difference of opinion between the Mister Mouallem saying that there is total denial of any aerial bombing of hospitals in eastern Aleppo and our point of view that indicates that there has been tragic bombing of hospital in eastern Aleppo and elsewhere frankly, then perhaps we should be allowed to send a verification team on the UN side and made by the UN and other partners to verify the damage of the hospitals in both east and west Aleppo.

This was not discussed, this whole point, it came after when we thought this might be a good initiative in order to verify whether our concerns and the denial by Minister Mouallem can be solved on this.

Another point, we also discussed the general humanitarian plan for eastern Aleppo. Let me summarize which points are they:

First medical evacuation of an average estimate of 200 severely wounded or sick people from eastern Aleppo particularly in view of the fact that the hospitals, according to our information, have been effected.

Second, entry of medicine supplies, access to some medicine supplies in order to treat those who cannot be evacuated.

Third, entry some food supplies to a city of 250,000 estimated people who since now several months have at least not received any humanitarian convoys.

Last, a small but consistent rotation of doctors who have been either wounded or exhausted and can be rotated in order to take care of those who are in the city.

Where are we on that? We still do not have an OK from the government on all those four points, and in all fairness we so far have a generic, in principal, OK, from the armed opposition. Meanwhile in eastern Aleppo and in western Aleppo people are suffering, and they are all Syrian people.

And now let me address another issue concerned with eastern Aleppo which is so called the UN proposal which we did discuss.

Now regarding Aleppo, The UN proposal, let me remind you and I did Minister Mouallem of it, first, stop bombing on both sides, second all al-Nusra fighters to leave the city, with their weapons and leave to where they go, and those who want to follow them could do that of course, both fighters or civilians. Those who want to remain should be allowed to remain, except al-Nusra. Three, humanitarian access, four, local administrations should be respected and left. And here we had a major disagreement, you must have heard from Minister Mouallem.

As you heard from Minister Mouallem, and I respect his point of view, but I can maintain mine, we have a substantial difference. The government through government through Minister Mouallem categorically rejected the idea of maintains the current local administration. My answer was I respect the total principal which no one inside or outside the UN should put in doubt, of the national sovereignty of Syria. On the other hand, Aleppo is a special case, eastern Aleppo is a special case, and all this can be temporary but needs to be having a creative formula. And that is exactly where we left it. In other words by discussing the fact that there could be some type of creative formula because there is a need to find a solution to this disagreement.

Regarding now, the other subject, which is the political, Intra-Syrian talks, before that there was a request from the Minister whether there was any guarantees for the proposal we had in eastern Aleppo, the one I just described, and in this context I just want to remind all of us that at the very time when we were talking here, five countries are actually discussing, in the context of the so-called Lausanne format, in Geneva, how to actually find a guaranteed formula for what I had described as a proposal.

So we don’t have guarantees, but those countries are working on possible guarantees in order to make sure that the proposal we made about eastern Aleppo, temporarily, could be working. And that is why, we left it there with disagreement, but with the intention we wish to find a creative formula.

Now on the political process, again, the Intra-Syrian talks, the Minister was asking when we could resume those talks as he said the government is ready, and we explained that we are evaluating the various options for renewing the Intra-Syrian talks bearing in mind the current highlight militarized environment.

We shared some of the ideas that we have in mind about the possible vision horizon for some type of creative UN proposals regarding a political solution or a political process and we left it with them. We did not pursue further than that, because we are in the process of consultations. That’s why I have been to Ankara, I have been to Tehran, Ramzy has been to Moscow, I have been here, I am on my way to Brussels also, to Geneva to London and then New York and then Washington. For the Security Council, so that we can listen to everyone’s point of view also in the region, which we will continue doing so that we can be better prepared for political Intra-Syrian talks, which are necessary.

Now, last point which I raised with Minister Mouallem was, because he reminded us that one of the priorities should always be fighting terrorism and we agree, and for us terrorism, according to the UN, Daesh and al-Nusra. To fight terrorism, to win it, there is only one way, a political solution, credible, all-inclusive and connected and linked to resolution to 2254 and in the spirit of the Geneva communiqué.

Thank you very much now questions.

Q. You mentioned previously that you were in touch with the groups in east Aleppo and despite that a very short period ago there was a Russian proposal for a cessation of hostilities, why didn’t you pressure the groups to leave?

SdeM: Thank you the answer is we did pressure them and we did insist in asking them to actually accept what we had requested. At the same time, in order to get aid moving as the Resident Coordinator and the Security Coordinator would remind us, we need the Ok from all sides, and we already had a terrible incident on a humanitarian convoy where many of our SARC friends and colleagues died.

Q. I wonder if you think that events on the ground during the past week, are you concerned that these events could overtake your demands, what do you plan to do?

SdeM: You are right, we are running out of time, we are running against time, what we have been hearing from our humanitarian colleagues is that, particularly in eastern Aleppo, but other parts in Syria, with the fear is that instead of a humanitarian or a political imitative an acceleration of a military activities, what I have been hearing of bombing and shelling is in that direction. So what more pressure can we put? Well it depends on the international community. The UN has a moral duty to continue putting pressure, saying the truth and pushing for stopping this horror. By Christmas we would have more than five years and the answer is the pressure can be increased by the international community, and I think your country has contributed to that. Imagine simply that by Christmas as I had feared due to military intensification you would have the virtual collapse of what is left of eastern Aleppo, you would have 200,000 people moving towards Turkey that would be a human catastrophe. But I am counting frankly on the discussions of the Russian Federation and the US to continue and to the members of the Security Council plus regional players who are part of the Lausanne process to actually be sincerely pushing for the catastrophe not to take place and our duty is to continue pushing them to not allow that.

Q. You mentioned the entry of a verification team to investigate facts and the impact of shelling, you also mentioned the humanitarian plan and that you had agreement from the AOGs, the question is, why would you mention the verification team in a press conference and not discuss it during your meeting with Minister Mouallem?

SdeM: You have a point, and please convey to Minister Mouallem my apologies because I should have thought about it during the meeting, but it occurred after, and this is the best opportunity to share a very logical proposal that both Ali Al-Za’tari and myself came up with.

Q. The proposal for local administration, is it to save the armed elements or save the civilians in eastern Aleppo noting that yesterday there were demonstrations where 19 civilians were killed, so this proposal to save who?

SdeM: It is a valid question, so thank you for raising it. It is to save civilians, they are our priority. They are between two fires, they have been bombed because they happen to be in eastern Aleppo, and at the same time they have the right to actually be as they are as civilians without being bombed and with food aid. Many are relatives of yours, I know colleagues who have been talking to them, and saying our hospitals was blocked, shot, and we are not getting food, and we have been bombed and we have the fighters with us. But local administration we need to have a special case for Aleppo, so that we can have a temporary arrangement until there will be a national political solution. Without putting in doubt the sacred principle of national sovereignty.

Q. After all what you have said, what is the purpose of autonomy in Aleppo? The Syrian government and the Russian government announced two times ceasefires in Aleppo so that anybody who wants to leave can leave, but no one left, and the reconciliation people said that civilians in eastern Aleppo want to leave but al-Nusra prevent them from that, but why the autonomy in eastern Aleppo?

SdeM: We are not proposing autonomy in Aleppo, we are only proposing that there should not be a radical dramatic change in the administration of Aleppo until there is a political solution. Particularly once al-Nusra would have left, the local administration, in our opinion, could be considered through some creative formula as a transition on what could be returning then to total normality.

Thank you very much.