posted on Fri 28 Feb 2020 10:44 AM
Syria: Briefing on Idlib

This afternoon (28 February), the Security Council is planning to hold an emergency meeting on the situation in Idlib. It seems that an official from the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, most likely Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo, will provide the briefing, and that several members are planning to make statements in the open chamber. The meeting was called for by the European members (Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, the UK), the Dominican Republic, and the US. Turkey is expected to participate in the meeting, and Syria might participate as well.

While the Council met yesterday to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria (including Idlib), today’s meeting was requested in light of military developments over the past day, including the aerial and ground-based attacks that have claimed the lives of 33 Turkish soldiers in Idlib. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hulusi Akar said that Turkish forces responded by “put[ting] more than 200 [Syrian] regime targets under heavy fire”. He also stated that the attacks on Turkish troops occurred “even though the locations of our troops were coordinated with the Russian officials on-site”. Russia has denied involvement in the incident. It has said that Turkish troops were operating alongside armed groups when fired on by Syrian government forces; Turkey has rejected this allegation. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke by phone earlier today in an effort to allay tensions, and it appears that they are planning to hold a face-to-face meeting next week.

The humanitarian and security situations in Idlib, where over 900,000 people have been displaced by fighting since early December 2019, remain an ongoing concern for Council members. Yesterday’s incident is the latest in a series of deadly clashes there this month between Syrian government forces and Turkish troops, who have been in Idlib since Turkey and Russia agreed on the establishment of a “de-escalation zone” there in September 2018. In recent weeks, Turkey has reinforced its troop presence in Idlib. Media reports over the past 24 hours have indicated that Turkey, which hosts some 3.7 million refugees from Syria, may no longer curtail the departure of Syrian refugees for EU countries.

Earlier today, NATO’s North Atlantic Council met at the request of Turkey, which is a member of NATO. Following the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the meeting “was a sign of solidarity with Turkey” and declared that the “Allies condemn the continued indiscriminate air strikes by the Syrian regime and its backer Russia in Idlib province”.

At this afternoon’s meeting, DiCarlo will most likely provide an analysis of the events that transpired yesterday, and their potential implications for the security, humanitarian, and political situation in Syria. Already on 6 February, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen expressed strong concern in the Council that clashes between Syria and Turkey inside Syria could “suggest the very real prospect of conflagration in the immediate region, as well as far beyond”. DiCarlo—as well as a number of Council members—will most likely reiterate calls for the violence to stop, urge maximum restraint among the parties, and emphasise the importance of protecting civilians, who have paid a heavy price in the fighting. Russia has repeatedly emphasised that its efforts are rooting out terrorists in Idlib and said that its operations do not target civilians. Other members have tended to state that any effort to fight terrorism must be carried out in accordance with international law, and some have cast doubt on Russia’s claim that it is not behind indiscriminate attacks. A majority of members have emphasised the need for a ceasefire in Idlib, and several may reiterate this call again today. In this regard, on Wednesday (26 February) nine Council members—Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Niger, Tunisia, the UK, and the US—carried out a démarche to Secretary-General António Guterres requesting him to step up his efforts to secure a ceasefire.

EU members of the Security Council may hold a press stakeout with regard to the recent developments in Idlib, although it is unclear if this will occur before or after the meeting.