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Syria: The collective punishment of civilians is simply unacceptable
by UN News, OCHA, MSF, Unicef, agencies
12:56pm 5th Mar, 2018
3 May 2018
The fighting in Syria “is not over” and neither is the “marathon of suffering” for millions of people in the war-torn country, said Jan Egeland, UN Special Envoy for Syria, speaking to journalists.
“It’s not over, and that’s what I fear, people think it’s over,” he said, amid reports that “tens of thousands of people” from Rural Damascus were preparing to evacuate to Idlib in the north-west of the country.
“We’ve still only 23 per cent of humanitarian programmes funded and we’re now in May,” Mr Egeland said, warning that there was “no cash …available to humanitarian actors” as “desperate, exhausted people arrive now every day in Idlib. There is no money for the operations.”
He called on countries not to slow down their support “before this marathon of suffering is over.”
Mr. Egeland’s comments come amid ongoing aid-access challenges, in many areas of Syria, linked to mass displacement and acute needs caused by more than seven years of war.
One year ago, well over four million people lived in so-called hard-to-reach locations where aid access was extremely unreliable, and hundreds of thousands more were trapped by surrounding forces.
Today, two million people remain in hard-to-reach areas in Syria and thousands still live in besieged locations; but the apparent progress in terms of numbers, is deceptive, the UN Special Advisor explained:
“It is a good thing that people are not any longer living massively in besieged areas, and that much fewer people live in hard-to-reach areas. But when this comes at the cost of horrific battles in heavily populated areas, and when it comes because of agreements made by a small group of military people and politicians, too often humanitarian concerns and the protection concerns for the civilian population is lost.”
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), displacement in some parts of Syria is as high as it was at the beginning of the crisis.
OCHA’s records indicate that for every person who returns home voluntarily, another three people are newly displaced.
Areas of particular concern include Afrin in the north, Raqqa, as well as Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus and Yarmouk in the south of the capital - where the UN has highly-restricted access.
But Mr. Egeland said his “worry number one” was Idlib, which is already home to more than two million people.
“They are living out in the open, they are living in congested displacement camps…crammed in collective centres,” he said.
“They arrive at 2am, you know, sort of every night now, just to find that they can hardly get a bed anywhere offered by completely overwhelmed humanitarian actors. So we cannot have a war in Idlib,” he implored.
Mr. Egeland also expressed concern for the 40,000 people living in displacement camps near eastern Ghouta – previously home to 390,000 people.
4 March 2018
Statement by Panos Moumtzis, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, on Implementation of UN Resolution 2401 calling for a one month humanitarian ceasefire. (OCHA)
I remain deeply concerned for the safety and protection of millions of civilians across Syria, one week after the UN Security Council voted in favour of Resolution 2401, calling for a one-month cessation of hostilities across the war-ravaged country.
Not only has this not happened, in some cases the violence has escalated, particularly for the close to 400,000 men, women and children of East Ghouta. Instead of a much needed reprieve, we continue to see more fighting, more death, and more disturbing reports of hunger and hospitals being bombed. This collective punishment of civilians is simply unacceptable.
Since 18 February, close to 600 people have reportedly been killed in air and ground-based strikes on the besieged enclave, while over 2,000 people have been injured. At the same time, ground-based strikes and mortar shelling from eastern Ghouta have killed and injured scores of civilians in neighbouring Damascus.
To the north in Idleb, fighting continues to kill and injure civilians, destroy civilian infrastructure, and result in large population movements. Since December, some 385,000 people have been displaced, many of them multiple times.
Thousands of ordinary Syrians, many with just the clothes on their backs, now live in make-shift camps or out in the open, while formal camps remain overwhelmed.
At the same time, we continue to receive disturbing reports out of Afrin of civilian deaths and injuries, and restrictions on civilian movement as a result of ongoing military operations. Those who risk moving continue to be stopped at exit points by local authorities in Afrin, preventing them from accessing safer areas. To date, an estimated 5,000 people have reached surrounding villages and Aleppo city, while tens of thousands more are now believed to be displaced within Afrin.
Finally, I remain deeply concerned about tens of thousands of people stranded in Rukban in south-eastern Syria. We continue to seek the necessary agreements for convoys of life-saving assistance to them.
The UN and humanitarian partners stand ready to assist the 13.1 million of people in need inside Syria, but cannot do it alone. We certainly cannot do this while the fighting continues.
I continue to call on all parties to the conflict to facilitate unconditional, unimpeded, and sustained access to all people in need throughout the country, particularly for the close to 3 million people in hard-to-reach and besieged areas, and to take all measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools and medical facilities, as well as allow for the urgent medical evacuation of those in need, as required by international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
Last Saturday, the UN Security Council voted unanimously in favour of Resolution 2401 and an end to the human suffering of the Syrian people. It cannot be ignored. It was a call for action. I reiterate that call today. After close to seven years of conflict, we must not fail the Syrian people. We must act now to save lives.
4 March 2018
The UN and partners plan to deliver humanitarian assistance to eastern Ghouta [OCHA]
The UN and partners plan to deliver humanitarian assistance to Duma in eastern Ghouta tomorrow, 5 March 2018. Tomorrow’s convoy will consist of 46 truckloads of health and nutrition supplies, along with food for 27,500 people in need and will be led by Ali AlZa’tari, the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator. “We hope that the convoy may proceed as planned and will be followed by other convoys. Our teams on the ground are ready to do all that is needed to make this happen,” stated Al-Za’tari.
The UN and partners have received approval to deliver assistance for 70,000 people in need in Duma. The UN has received assurances that the remaining supplies for all approved people in need will be delivered on 8 March 2018.
The only UN delivery of assistance to eastern Ghouta in 2018 was on 14 February when a convoy with assistance for 7,200 people reached Nashabiyah.
The United Nations calls on all parties to facilitate unconditional, unimpeded, and sustained access to all people in need throughout the country. The UN and humanitarian partners continue to be ready to enter other hard-to-reach and besieged areas across Syria as soon as conditions allow. Despite the ongoing violence in Syria, the UN continues to provide millions of people in need with life-saving assistance on a monthly basis.
* UN TV: Urgent Debate on the situation in Eastern Ghouta, Syria - 15th Meeting, 37th Regular Session Human Rights Council. 2 Mar 2018:
2 March 2018
Children in Syria - summary of what was said by Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at today''s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
"Last Saturday, the world gave children in Syria a small glimmer of hope, a ray of light in a place that has become so very dark over the past years.
"The UN Security Council Resolution- unanimously adopted nearly a week ago- created an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of children to finally get respite from the brutal and unabated violence they have been living through.
"We all thought this was a window for UNICEF and other aid partners to deliver urgent and lifesaving assistance to children in need wherever they are inside the country.
"For many mothers and fathers in Syria, they immediately thought this is “survival for my children”, thinking that their severely malnourished children and those who needed urgent medical assistance could get just that: treatment and aid, a very basic right.
"But as the days went by, these hopes turned into illusions, the windows shut abruptly in our faces. "Because, for children in Syria, nothing has changed, nothing.
"Violence in fact continued in several places across the country, escalating in some and flaring up in others. Violence is ongoing in Idlib, Afrin, in Deir-ez-Zor, in Damascus, in parts of Aleppo and in East Ghouta with reports of children killed and injured.
"The war on children inside Syria is on and it’s not stopping…. Syria remains one of the most dangerous places to be a child.
"Our teams on the ground in Syria and in neighbouring countries are working round the clock.. We are ready with life-saving supplies including medicines, nutrition supplements for malnourished children, paediatric and midwifery kits, winter clothes for children, hygiene kits and other basic commodities.
"These supplies are meant to deploy to Afrin, Idlib, East Ghouta, Dera’a and other besieged and hard-to-reach areas – some of which we have not been able to reach for months on end. This is where nearly 2 million children live, mostly deprived of their basic rights and of getting assistance. In each of these areas, UNICEF has multiple partners trying day by day to ensure that children can be children.
"This is in addition to ongoing work that UNICEF continues to do for children in need across Syria where there are 5.3 million children in need of assistance. Some of our work includes the delivery of life saving vaccines for children, providing them safe drinking water, supporting their education and opening learning opportunities, including giving education supplies, refurnishing damaged schools, educate them on the risks of mines and remnants of war, supporting over 500 child friendly spaces.
"The first two months of this year have been especially bloody for children. We have received reports of over 1,000 children who were killed and seriously injured only since the year began.. it’s a stark reminder that the war on children in Syria has got to stop and has got to stop now.
"And while we focus on the situation inside Syria, let us not forget that Syria’s neighbouring countries have born the brunt of the war. There are over 2.6 million children living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.. Some have never been to Syria, they are war children deprived of their home country.
"Poverty and dwindling financial means are making it almost impossible for families to get by in these countries.
"In a recent study that UNICEF Jordan conducted, more than 85% of refugees outside the camps- in host communities- live in poverty struggling to meet their basic needs including providing education for their children.
Finally, our call, UNICEF’s call on behalf of millions of Syrian children. UNICEF calls -once again- on those fighting on the ground inside Syria and all those who have influence over them to put their arms down and stop the war on children.
"We call to get approvals and assurances to be able as UNICEF with partners to deliver urgent and lifesaving humanitarian assistance to all children in need, wherever and I stress, wherever they are across Syria.
"Is our call falling once again on deaf ears? The children of Syria have been waiting for way too long. The world has failed the children of Syria so many times.
"The world cannot keep failing Syria’s children, you and I, the international community and those fighting and those with influence cannot keep failing the children of Syria."
Feb. 2018 (UN News)
Deeply alarmed by the escalating violence in Syria’s east Ghouta, the United Nations has reiterated a call for an end to hostilities so that the sick and wounded can be immediately evacuated and humanitarian aid deliveries can reach those in need.
Speaking at a Security Council meeting on Wednesday, Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate suspension of all war activities in Syria’s conflict-battered east Ghouta, where, he said, “a human tragedy is unfolding in front of our eyes with 400,000 people living in hell on earth.”
Since the Syrian Government and their allies escalated their offensive against opposition-held east Ghouta on 4 February, there have been many more civilian casualties, more deaths, more injuries, mostly in airstrikes hitting residential areas, according to reports documented by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Only one humanitarian convoy has been able to make its way to the war-ravaged city since November last year, bringing to one of its enclaves desperately needed but overwhelmingly insufficient food and medical supplies – enough only to meet the needs of 2.6 per cent of the population in need.
Stop the ‘monstrous campaign of annihilation’ of east Ghouta – UN rights chief
The UN human rights chief also appealed to the international community to act urgently to save lives.
“How much cruelty will it take before the international community can speak with one voice to say enough dead children, enough wrecked families, enough violence, and take resolute, concerted action to bring this monstrous campaign of annihilation to an end?” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said.
“International humanitarian law was developed precisely to stop this type of situation, where civilians are slaughtered in droves in order to fulfil political or military objectives,” he underscored, reiterating his plea to the international community to ensure accountability for the ongoing violations, many of which may amount to war crimes.
Urgent Debate on situation in Eastern Ghouta: Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra''ad Al Hussein. (Extract)
The recent death toll in Eastern Ghouta has reportedly been among the highest registered in the past seven years of conflict. People living in what was once an ordinary suburb – human beings who share the rights and hopes of all of us here – are trapped and battered by bombs, and deprived of every human right – above all, the right to life.
The Security Council at last adopted Resolution 2401 (2018) six days ago. It required all parties to the Syrian conflict to immediately cease hostilities for at least 30 consecutive days, to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance and evacuation of the critically sick and wounded. Despite this rare example of unanimity, civilians in Eastern Ghouta have reported that airstrikes and shelling continue. We have spoken to people in Eastern Ghouta who say they do not dare attempt to leave their shelters, given the persistent ground and air strikes and the sheer uncertainty about what will happen even if they survive their flight. Satellite imagery showing the shocking scale of the destruction of towns across Eastern Ghouta starkly reveals how dangerous any attempt to flee could be.
Despite the five-hour pause announced by the Russian Government to allow medical and humanitarian aid, airstrikes and ground-based strikes continue – as well as shelling of Government controlled areas of Damascus. Moreover, the humanitarian agencies have made it very clear that it is impossible to deliver aid during a five-hour window as it can take up to one day to simply pass checkpoints:
* Agenda for Humanity: Respect the Rules of War:
* Report of the UN Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict:

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