4 August 2016
RER. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I will give a general overview of the situation with a particular emphasis on the political process, then Jan Egeland will get into more details about the humanitarian situation, as discussed today during the taskforce.
Last week, Special Envoy de Mistura informed you of his intention to hold the intra-Syrian talks towards the end of August. We are committed to that and we will do everything possible to make sure that these talks are fruitful. For these talks to be fruitful, the cessation of hostilities has to stand and be reinforced, and here, the United States and the Russian Federation, as co-chairs, are in discussion on this particular issue. Also, the humanitarian situation has to improve. Not much has been accomplished over the past month, largely due to the intensification of the military activities. That is why we attach great importance to the discussions between the co-chairs on that issue. The issue of Aleppo has come-up in the humanitarian taskforce, given the increased military activities and the consequences on the delivery of humanitarian aid. The Russian Federation presented its proposal last week, the United Nations studied this proposal and has reacted, both publically and otherwise and we are currently in intensive discussions with the Russian Federation and the Government of Syria to ensure that the civilian population in Aleppo is protected and that the Standards of International Humanitarian Law are respected in any operation on humanitarian assistance.
JE. We had hoped to reach 1.2 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas affected by conflict in July. What we could report now to the humanitarian taskforce was that we reached 40 percent only, and it is heartbreaking really for humanitarian workers that are ready with supplies, with trucks and people who are willing to risk a lot, that we were prevented from reaching 60 percent of the 1.2 million that we had hoped to go to.
The main reason for this is the fighting. There is now cross-fire. There is fighting in too many places and that affects, more than anything else, the besieged areas. We were able to reach four besieged areas – Al Waer, Moadamiyah, East Harasta, and with air drops, Deir Ez Zor. That was just about 38% of the people in these besieged areas, 14 areas were not reached at all. In addition to the fighting, the Four Towns Agreement is not working. This agreements was negotiated by non-UN parties in September and it allowed for humanitarian supplies to be delivered; and the last supply was (delivered) at the end of April. It is not working anymore. So our appeal to the members of the taskforce and their co-chairs, Russia and the United States, and parties concerned, is help us get into the Four Towns as soon as possible, because at the moment, people are bleeding to death without being evacuated and starvation will occur anytime. Humanitarian pauses and a temporary end to the fighting are badly needed now, more than ever, for the iconic and much suffering city of Aleppo. We are ready, able and willing to go, if there are pauses in the fighting. We have made it very clear for the parties, including the Russian Federation after their proposal of humanitarian corridors, what is needed for us to be able to go, and there is intensive diplomatic activity at the moment to enable such an operation. We are ready to go as soon as we have the pause, and we have a two-way corridor with supplies going in to the people in Eastern Aleppo, but also now Western Aleppo, which has now become much more exposed to problems, and which has enormous access problems as well. Supplies have to go in, and voluntary evacuation has to be possible out of Aleppo.
We are also reminded by the Council in Darayya that they have not gotten, even a full package of one monthly ration there and truly they are waiting for supplies that we are willing and ready to give as soon as there is a break in the fighting that allow us to go.
We also discussed the crisis of the medical work. We received reports of 44 hospitals, clinics and health posts being attacked in the month of July alone. We are investigating all of these. It’s a priority for the humanitarian taskforce in the coming weeks and months that medical facilities and health workers must be protected. It’s now up to the parties on the ground, the co-chairs and members of the taskforce, to help us come-up with a system whereby if we announce a medical facility to the parties it will not be attacked. At the moments, doctors and nurses are routinely attacked as they tend to wounded, both civilians and possible fighters. It has to end, and I’m hopeful that we can have some initiatives in this regard in the coming weeks.
Q. You have been asking for those 48 hours-pauses in Aleppo, but it’s not happening. I’m surprised to see that you still have the intention to hold peace talks at the end of this month. Don’t you both feel that the situation is slipping away from anything the UN could do right now?
RER. I wouldn’t say so, I think there are intensive consultations going on between the co-chairs regarding the cessation of hostilities, we have been in contact with various parties, we continue to talk to all the interested parties to make sure the cessation of hostilities is in place to allow us to move ahead. So I think there still is time, we have not given-up hope, we cannot give-up hope. So, bear with us, and I think in the next few days there might be some movement, because for us what is important is to have credible talks, talks in which parties will engage in a serious manner, and that requires the regional parties to be on board, but also the situation on the ground, whether the humanitarian side, or the military, and we are all working very hard on that.
JE. There is a very clear plan for using such process, that is not just for one side to adhere to, but many sides that need to subscribe to a pause in the fighting. We are hopeful, we think it can happen, and we are ready to use it. The last supplies to Eastern Aleppo happened in the end of the month of June. We need this pause very soon.
Q. According to Russian media, many civilians left through the humanitarian corridors implemented by Russia and they took their families too, to shelters. Do you know their situation, how are they? And also is there a real humanitarian corridor when people can leave but aid cannot go in?
JE. A humanitarian corridor has to be two-ways. There has to be unimpeded access for humanitarian supplies in, and it’s not happening to Aleppo now. Also, voluntary evacuation of civilians, plus wounded and sick, should take place to the places of their choosing and where they feel safe. So indeed we do not have classical humanitarian corridors at all, in Aleppo, but we’re working with everybody, including Russia, to get those, and I think the discussions have been very positive, in a sense that everybody now says that we are working towards the same goal of having two-ways humanitarian corridors, of having better protection of civilians, including medical installations. The number of civilians leaving is, to my knowledge, very limited so far.
RER. During the meeting today, across the board there was a positive reaction by all, including the Russians, to what the UN has provided as humanitarian standards. So that pretty much confirms what Jan was saying, that our humanitarian standards should be respected.
Q. We are used to hear the mantra of “no military solution,” but apparently the Russians and the Syrians think there is a military solution in Aleppo. On the other hand you’re saying that you’re hopeful that there is a broad agreement for a humanitarian proposal, which doesn’t seem to be Russia’s proposal. Are you seriously thinking that the Russians and the Syrians are going to stop their action in Aleppo sometime in the next week for a period of 24, 48 or 72 hours. Is that realistic? And also if you can share with us any updates on the military talks. Mr. de Mistura told us last week that US and Russian officials were coming to Geneva, we haven’t heard anymore but obviously that’s pretty crucial.
RER. On the Russian-American military talks, they are ongoing, I can confirm, we’re hoping that the results will be fruitful within short order because I think that would unlock the entire situation. As to the military plans of the Governments of Syria and Russia I think you should ask them about that, but we continue to believe that no one has an interest in further escalating the military situation in Aleppo in a way that would impede humanitarian aid and the chances of political settlement. Aleppo, as Jan has said, is iconic, very important, and we need to do something about Aleppo, very quickly. I think that there is still a chance for that in the next days.
JE. Concrete planning is taking place as we speak, by many actors, UN, Red Cross and Red Crescent, non-governmental organizations, to be able to reach both Eastern and Western Aleppo. Everybody is planning for this humanitarian operation to take place, it should be and it will be a normal humanitarian operation led by international humanitarian actors and according to international humanitarian principles: voluntary evacuation, unimpeded access in, led by UN, , Red Cross and Red Crescent, non-governmental organizations and others. The Russian initiative was a limited one of saying that civilians can go out and fighters can go out through these corridors but what we want is a much more comprehensive, humanitarian operation, according to normal humanitarian standards. It’s not unrealistic. Let me mention one thing, Madamiyah was the place that everybody thought one could not go, when we started the work. That is the place where we go regularly now. Al-Waer was the place where everybody said it’s totally, totally blocked, and that’s the place where we’re going. We are seeing moving targets all the time in this horrific war, where some places get much worse and other places get better. Now it’s gotten much worse in Aleppo, it has to get better again, we have not given up hope on that. That’s why we are working now every day, every night, since Castello road was blocked on the 7th of July.
Q. Are you talking to the opposition? They don’t seem inclined to participate in the talks at the moment. Would you have peace talks without them?
RER. I assume you are referring to the HNC. Certainly not, and we have been in continuous contact with them, we have had people in Riyadh, off and on, over the past weeks, and that continues. If there are going to be talks, there has to be two sides, one is the government of Syria, the other is the opposition, there’s no doubt about that. So rest assured that we are in contact with everyone.