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In Syria, Terrorist Water Cuts & Government Airstrikes, Dodging on Besieged

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 27 -- When UN Relief Chief Stephen O'Brien briefed the UN Security Council about the humanitarian situation in Syria on August 27, he cited Government airstrikes and shelling and water cuts by "non-State armed groups and designated terrorist groups."

 Where the line between these two is was not drawn. Syria's Permanent Representative Bashar Ja'afari criticized the UN reports for calling Al Qaeda a "non-State armed group."

 O'Brien said, among other things, “On 12 and 16 August, Government airstrikes hit a market place in Duma killing over [one] hundred people and injuring many more. This attack took place just a few days after the indiscriminate shelling of Damascus by non-State armed groups. Despite the outrage and condemnations, there has since been at least one further, similar attack. According to reports, since mid-August approximately 200 people have been killed and 400 injured in eastern Ghutah. Shelling of Damascus has also continued, reportedly killing over 30 people on 23-24 August only. This tit-for-tat approach by the warring parties is causing devastation to the ordinary women, men and children of Syria and it must stop.

   "Non-State Armed Groups and designated terrorist groups deliberately cut access to essential services such as water and electricity. Such acts violate international humanitarian law and must be stopped immediately. In Aleppo City, water supply was cut from 2 to 18 July and again in early August -- during the hottest month of the year -- affecting an estimated 1.7 million people. Similarly in Dar'a City and the surrounding villages, active fighting disrupted the supply of water and electricity for more than ten days affecting some 300,000 people. The city of Damascus was also affected by water cuts as non-State armed group cut off the supply from the Wadi Barada Springs which provide water to Damascus. It is unconscionable for anyone to live under these conditions."

 O'Brien said "UNRWA was able to access Yalda on 18 August and again on 19 and 24 August as well as today, to provide life-saving healthcase consultations for 1000 people and 200,000 water purification tablets." He did not say "typhoid," nor "Yarmouk." If it wasn't accessible from June 8 to August 18, is that not "besieged"? We hope to have more on this.

On August 17 after the UN Security Council's Syria Presidential Statement was adopted on August 17 with Venezuela disassociating itself from Paragraphs 8 and 10 (speech online here), Inner City Press asked the Permanent Representatives of Venezuela and New Zealand, then France's deputy, about the process.

  Inner City Press asked Venezuela's Rafael Ramirez about the Elected Ten members of the Security Council being consulted only at the end:

Inner City Press: Do you think the elected 10 members should have been involved earlier?

Amb Ramirez: We haven't been involved in the negotiation. Just the P5, they prepared a consensus, and then come here, to everybody for support. We are here elected... The idea is supposed to be a democratic body, but it’s not.

  New Zealand's Permanent Representative, when Inner City Press asked if he shared this view said yes, that he had expressed it.

 By contrast when Inner City Press asked France's Deputy Permanent Representative Alexis Lamek about the views not only of Venezuela but also New Zealand and others, characterized this as merely process, video here. Isn't France the one talking about (some) reforms in the Security Council?

  Back on August 14, Inner City Press asked Nigeria's Ambassador Joy Ogwu about this, if the Elected Ten members of the Security Council should  be brought into negotiating documents earlier, Video here, from 2:43.

   Ambassador Ogwu said, on UNTV camera, “That’s an aspiration of the ten elected members. There should be more participation.”

  In this case, until Venezuela objected, they were given a mere 18 hours. What is the point of running for a seat on the Security Council if rubber stamping is all that's expected of you?

  This paragraph, and its compliance or non-compliance with Syria's constitution, was at issue:

“10. The Security Council demands that all parties work urgently towards the comprehensive implementation of the Geneva Communiqué, aimed at bringing an end to all violence, violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law and the launching of a Syrian-led political process leading to a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and enables them independently and democratically to determine their future, including through the establishment of an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers, which shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent while ensuring continuity of governmental institutions.”

  Disassociation, allowing it to be adopted as unanimous while a member can disavow it, may solve a problem for this particular text. But other ongoing dysfunctions of the Security Council continue. Watch this site.

Back on August 7 the Security Council on August 7 a resolution to establish a so-called accountability mechanism for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Outside the Council before and after the unanimous vote on August 7, Russia's ambassador Vitaly Churkin referred to a Presidential Statement he said may be adopted early next week, to support UN envoy Staffan de Mistura's work.

  Inside the Council after the vote, Syria's Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari began his speech with a reference to the 70th anniversary of the US dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He went to to say the UN never investigated the use of chemical weapons, by rebels he said, in Khan al Asal.

   In its resolution the Security Council “recalls that in its resolution 2118, it decided that the Syrian Arab Republic and all parties in Syria shall cooperate fully with the OPCW and the United Nations.” It seems doubtful that ISIS will cooperate.

   Churkin in his post-vote speech inside the Council said that “the existing mechanics of the UN and OPCW do not have a mandate to identify those participating in such acts. Moreover, we became witnesses of the many politicized statements in this regard, which were clearly meant to be propaganda. It was necessary to eliminate this gap, which was done with the adoption of today’s resolution... Any efforts in the Syrian area must be in line with assisting a search for a political solution to the conflict.”

   Inside the Council, US Samantha Power delivered this speech. At the stakeout, questions were given to Reuters, Al Hurra (really, France 24, by mistake), and Voice of America. (We'll have a separate piece on Power's response to the Press' final question about Burundi. For now, here's previous stakeout, sit-down.

   After the meeting ended, on the steps leading out from the UNSC stakeout, Churkin said “I hope it will translate into our continued joint work on the political front. We are working, I think very well, on a PRST [Presidential Statement] in support of Staffan de Mistura’s efforts. I hope it will be adopted...” More on


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