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Transcript (including corrigenda) of press stakeout by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura

18 August 2016

SdeM: Good afternoon. Today we had a very short meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force. It lasted not more than 8 minutes. I decided to use my privilege as Chair to declare that there was no sense in have a humanitarian meeting today unless we got some action on the humanitarian side in Syria.

Tomorrow is the World Humanitarian Day and in Syria what we are hearing and seeing is only fighting, offensives, counter-offensives, rockets, barrel bombs, mortars, hellfire cannons, napalm, chlorine, snippers, air strikes, suicide bombers.

Not one single convoy has so far reached any of the humanitarian besieged areas this month [the SE was referring to the month of August], not one single convoy, and why? Because one thing, fighting.

The priority clearly at the moment, at least from what we see is fighting. There is one exception that is moving and that is WFP, World Food Programme, maintaining its word, and actually airdropping now more than 100 times to Deir ez-Zor, where there are 200,000 people in government controlled areas, 100 times.

But we have now 110 days,110 days, since Madaya or any of the besieged areas [the 110 days refer only to besieged areas under the Four Towns Agreement- Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kafraya] had been reached by convoys. That's why today, I decided to immediately adjourn the Humanitarian taskforce meeting, because what we need today is facts: our message is clear, the Secretary-General has made it, and so have we heard from Stephen O'Brien and frankly from Peter Maurer, the ICRC President. We ask for at least a pause of 48 hours - we insist on this, in order to achieve anything meaningful for Aleppo - to start with Aleppo, a 48 hours pause, that would allow UN humanitarian convoys, unhindered, to go via the Castello road to Aleppo, to everyone in Aleppo because the city is one, east and west. We are ready where is the pause.
This is why today, I have interrupted today, suspended [meant adjourned] today the meeting of HTF, Humanitarian Task Force, in order to give a chance to facts to prove that HTF meetings, are indeed, as they have been in the past, meaningful for the Syrian people.

We shall have this afternoon another type of meeting, the Cessation of hostilities taskforce, which is also, like the HTF, a child of the ISSG ministerial meeting, and I am sure, and I certainly will myself contribute to that, that Aleppo and the cessation of hostilities in Aleppo to start with, for 48 hours, will be the main topic.

I will stop there, and be ready for some questions.

Q. As you had said previously you see no military solution to this conflict and yet the two co-chairs to the taskforce obviously do not agree with you because they continue to support a massive offensive on a key city. Can you tell me a little bit on where does that dynamic stands vis-a-vis the Russian Federation and whether you are making progress in getting them to understand that fighting your way out of this civil war is not going anywhere, or am I wrong, do they think that you are mistaken, and do they intend to pursue this to a military conclusion?

SdeM: Well I think you are drawing some conclusions which I do not share, I do not think that the two co-chairs are determined to find a military solution. I believe that there is a genuine intention of finding a non-military solution, where I do share your concern is that St. Petersburg meeting which was an important meeting, between American and Russians at the level of President in Russia and with John Kerry on the other side with Sergey Lavrov. There were important discussions that was when? 15th of July. When are we today? The 18th of August and tomorrow is the International Humanitarian Day. Too much waiting, too many details, too many negotiations. I think the Syrian people and all of us, are all expecting that this will produce, as we thought it was going to produce, a reduction of violence, and some type of arrangement, which will be actually making a difference in Syria. And since everything is about a pause, lack of violence, humanitarian aid and everything else come with it.

Q. A follow-up to the question of my colleague, you just told us that in fact you used your privilege to suspend this meeting, to whom are you addressing in fact this sign that is showing the world that you are losing patience in the name of course of the Syrian people, what do you expect now? what kind of pressure would you like to use on the co-chairs? Because you say that on the one hand they are looking for solution but on the other hand we are seeing every day that in fact the conflict is increasing.

SdeM: Well I think the message of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, of the President of the ICRC, and of Stephen O’brien, of the Syrian people frankly, if you ask them you will hear that, is very clear, and what I simply did was conveying that message to the co-chairs and to all the members of the ISSG because they are in one form or the other, or most of them, involved in this conflict or at least able to influence those who are supposed to stop it. In other words if there is, as we are asking and I again insist, on behalf of the Secretary-General of the UN and of all the Syrian people to have a 48 hours pause in Aleppo to start with, that would require some heavy lifting, from not only the two co-chairs, but from those who have influence on those fighting on the ground.

Q. We understand that a letter has been received by your office from citizens from Fouah, one of the besieged areas in Idlib that has not received aid in months, can you say something and confirm the contents and tenure of that letter which seems to say that aid if not received there will not be received anywhere, that is what we understand it to say.

SdeM: Well, I do have knowledge of that letter, what I would like to say is that I am reiterating what I had already said, 110 days, no aid to any of thebesieged areas under the Four Towns Agreement , is something that justifies deep frustration, not only in Kefraya and Fouah, and I understand their frustration and anger but also the people in Madaya or in Zabadani, just to mention two. Secondly, let's not forget that what we have been asking, and I still reiterate it, we are asking for a pause, but a pause should also be accompanied by humanitarian aid, and that comes with it, and evacuation of medical cases. We made a very strong, by name, appeal, for some gesture of humanity by both sides, because those medical evacuations were actually requested in both sides, Kefraya and Fouah and Madaya.
We hope to see that, but that is one more reason for today to not just simply say we hope, we want to have a meeting in which we will be able to say that it did take place.

Q. (inaudible)
SdeM: let’s be precise, today I adjourned the HTF meeting as a symbol of deep concern and as a sign of respect towards the World Humanitarian Day tomorrow and as a sign of deep unhappiness about the fact that due to the lack of a pause no humanitarian aid is reaching anywhere in Syria in the moment except in Deir ez-Zor [the Special Envoy refers to the requested inter-agency convoys to besieged and priority hard-to-reach areas. No such convoy could take place this month], and Aleppo is still, eastern Aleppo besieged and western Aleppo is at risk of becoming besieged.

But we are going to resume it next week and that would be where, I hope, that instead of having hopes or wishes or promises, the meeting will be talking about facts that have happened in the meanwhile. And we will have a meeting this afternoon, important one, more than what you think, or you might think, it is not going to be routine, because it will be all about the reason for why all this is happening, lack of a pause, and lack of a pause on Aleppo, 2 million people.


Geneva, 18 August 2016


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