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Syria: UN humanitarian chief calls for stop in fighting
by Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock
10:51am 4th Feb, 2020
4 Feb. 2020
UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: Parties to the conflict must act immediately and collectively to bring meaningful respite to civilians in northwest Syria.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic is alarmed by the surge of attacks in the northwest of the country that has heightened an already complex protection environment for civilians. The Commission appeals to all parties to exercise caution and restraint and to de-escalate hostilities immediately.
In the last two weeks, attacks on civilian infrastructure, including schools, markets, and medical facilities causing civilian casualties, including many girls and boys, have been reported. The deliberate and systematic targeting of hospitals follows a pattern already documented by the Commission, and may amount to war crimes. Continuing such attacks has been, and remains, completely unacceptable.
While the Commission’s investigations are continuing, this preliminary information raises concerns that all parties to the conflict continue to ignore the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian and human rights law in the course of their activities. Their legal obligations not to direct attacks against civilians and civilian targets remains.
Warring parties must act immediately and collectively to bring meaningful respite to the civilian population. The international community must use every tool at its disposal to prevent a further spiralling of the conflict in northwest Syria and to ensure that crimes and violations do not continue to go unpunished.
In the last three months alone similar patterns of attack forced more than 500,000 women, men and children, to be displaced further north toward the border. Some towns and villages in southern Idlib and western Aleppo governorates reportedly have been completely depopulated.
Many of the displaced have previously fled other parts of Syria including those forcibly displaced pursuant to “evacuation agreements”. Each new displacement brings with it additional risks and further increases existing vulnerabilities, in particular for women as well as children.
Parties must allow unfettered access for independent humanitarian, protection and human rights organizations to address the increasing needs and those organisations must act swiftly to increase protection.
The United Nations Secretary-General has made it clear that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria.
The Commission reminds all parties that they have a moral imperative to engage in good faith dialogue to de-escalate the situation and prioritize the protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.
* Hundreds of thousands in northwest Syria caught in humanitarian catastrophe, aid agencies warn:
29 Jan 2020
In a briefing today to the United Nations Security Council, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock expressed alarm about the deteriorating humanitarian situation affecting women and children, in particular in the north-west of the country, and called on all parties to stop the fighting and facilitate access for humanitarian workers and supplies to address civilians’ essential needs.
Underscoring that hostilities have escalated in recent days in the Idleb area, especially around Ma’arat al-Numan, Saraqeb and western Aleppo, the humanitarian chief noted that the most alarming reports have come from southern Idleb, where hundreds of airstrikes by the Government of Syria and its allies have been concentrated.
“The violence in north-west Syria is deplorable,” said Mr. Lowcock in his statement.
“Many families are moving multiple times. They arrive in a place thought to be safe, only for the bombs to follow, so they are then forced to move again. This cycle is all too familiar in north-west Syria.”
Most of the affected people have been moving from southern Idleb to other locations in non-government-controlled areas, the humanitarian chief said. According to the latest assessments, at least 20,000 people have moved in the past two days. Some 115,000 have left in the past week, and over 500,000 have fled in the past two months.
(“Since 1 December, some 520,000 people have been displaced from their homes, the vast majority – 80% – of them women and children,” said David Swanson, spokesman for the United Nation’s humanitarian coordination office, OCHA).
Mr. Lowcock said that efforts by humanitarian organizations within Syria to provide assistance cross-line, including those by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, have not yet been facilitated by the parties in control.
“The cross-border humanitarian operations have staved off a massive humanitarian catastrophe in the north-west, but let us make no mistake about it: civilians are still suffering terribly,” the humanitarian chief said.
Mr. Lowcock emphasized that under current conditions, humanitarian responders do not have the capacity to meet the level of need. He said that families that have been recently displaced and are currently in makeshift shelters and unfinished buildings have been making desperate appeals for more support.
Noting that he talked to Syrians in Idleb again last week, he stressed that people feel increasingly under siege, as well as traumatized and abandoned by the world.
“They don’t understand why this Council is unable to stop the carnage amongst a civilian population trapped in a war zone,” said Mr. Lowcock. “Their message to you is essentially the same one I relayed when I briefed you on 30 July: ‘We are afraid. Please help us. Make it stop.’”
The most urgent need, said the humanitarian chief, is to protect the civilian population and to scale up the humanitarian response. “In order for that to be possible, I call on all parties to facilitate safe and unhindered access for humanitarian workers and supplies to address civilians’ essential needs,” he said.
“Parties to the conflict, and those with influence, must stop the fighting,” said Mr. Lowcock. “Unless the current hostilities stop, we will see an even greater humanitarian catastrophe. I hope you will take every step to avoid that.”
27 Dec. 2019
Once again families and children find themselves caught in deadly violence, by OCHA, Mercycorps, NRC, OHCHR, Unicef, agencies
The United Nations says 235,000 civilians have fled their homes in rebel-held northwestern Syria during a Syrian Government, Russian-backed campaign of airstrikes and shelling this month.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the exodus took place between 12-25 December.
Most people had fled the city of Maarat al-Numan, towns and villages in southern Idlib province, Idlib city, and camps along the Syrian-Turkish border, OCHA said.
"With the latest escalation of violence in northwest Syria, civilians in Idlib governorate are again suffering from the devastating consequences of hostilities," it said.
Thousands of families were also reported to be too frightened to move, fearing further airstrikes and shelling.
David Swanson, UN regional spokesperson for the Syria crisis told reporters that women and children comprise more than 80 percent of displaced people.
"This comes on top of the displacement figures that we had from the end of April to the end of August where more than 400,000 people have been displaced. "What we have is a displacement crisis on top of another displacement crisis," Swanson said.
Rescue services and witnesses say the recent hostilities have left many towns in ruins and damaged or destroyed dozens of medical centres.
19 Dec. 2019
UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
With the end of 2019 approaching, I am afraid that the humanitarian situation for people in many parts of Syria is worse than when the year began. The Secretary-General’s latest report updates about many concerning developments.
I would like to touch on a few of these developments today, but also highlight humanitarians’ ongoing efforts to assist people in need. I will speak to the continued importance of cross-border humanitarian operations. I will conclude by highlighting several trends that may increasingly shape the humanitarian outlook in Syria during the year ahead.
In northwest Syria, to begin, the situation remains alarming. Syrian government forces and their allies continue to shell and conduct airstrikes on areas under the control of non-state armed groups, including listed terrorist entities, in Idleb and Aleppo. Non-state armed groups, for their part, have escalated attacks against areas controlled by Government forces in southern Idleb and Aleppo. Civilians on both sides of the frontline continue to suffer the consequences. Medical personnel and facilities have also been directly impacted.
Across northwest Syria, civilians live the consequences of this continued violence. Humanitarian networks report that hostilities have displaced up to 60,000 people in Idleb in recent weeks. Rain, cold and winter conditions have compounded hardship for many displaced families and their host communities. Earlier this month, OCHA received reports of families in Idleb burning tires, old clothes, and other household items trying to stay warm.
Humanitarian organizations are trying to do everything possible to assist the most vulnerable. Partners continue to provide food assistance to newly displaced households, increase health services in areas that are receiving an influx of IDPs, and provide emergency protection services. In recent months, WFP has increased the number of people to be assisted via its cross-border modalities to over 1 million people per month.
In northeast Syria, the humanitarian situation remains serious, even as hostilities have decreased in recent weeks. After Turkey and allied non-state armed groups launched ‘Operation Peace Spring’ in the area between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in Syria on 9 October, over 200,000 people fled the area. More than 70,000 people remain displaced from Hasakah, Raqqah and Aleppo governorates. Nearly 17,000 people have fled into Iraq.
Humanitarian organizations have mounted a significant response to assist hundreds of thousands of people affected by hostilities in the northeast. As the Secretary-General notes, humanitarian organizations in the area have been adaptive to deliver assistance to those most in need. With some 1.8 million people in need in northeast Syria, the task is considerable.
Rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access remains essential for all facets of the ongoing humanitarian response in the northeast.
As the Under-Secretary-General stressed in his briefing last month, the humanitarian situation in northwest and northeast Syria would be markedly worse without the cross-border operation. The aid provided through the modalities set out in your resolutions have staved off an even larger humanitarian crisis inside Syria.
Without the cross-border operation, we would see an immediate end of aid supporting millions of civilians. That would cause a rapid increase in hunger and disease, resulting in death, suffering and further displacement—including across-borders—for a vulnerable population who have already suffered unspeakable tragedy as a result of almost nine years of conflict.
The scale of humanitarian needs in Syria will remain vast. As you will have seen in the Global Humanitarian Overview 2020, which was released earlier this month, current estimates project that some 11 million people in Syria will need regular humanitarian assistance. Five million of these are in ‘acute’ need of assistance. The UN estimates that the overall financial requirements for the humanitarian response in 2020 will be similar to the $3.3 billion dollars requested in 2019.
Moreover, across the region, some 5.6 million Syrian refugees need assistance, more than 70 per cent of whom live in poverty. The current plan to assist this refugee population and their host communities remains considerable, with projected costs of $5.2 billion dollars.
Financial support for both the response in Syria and the wider region remains vital. Much more support is required to sustain humanitarian operations in Syria and neighboring countries. We will count on donors’ generosity during the year ahead to help humanitarians reach more people in need with the most appropriate and effective assistance.
8 Nov. 2019
Hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk in Syria amid ongoing violence in northeast and northwest. (UN News)
Almost daily violence targeting built-up areas and health facilities in Syria continues to threaten the lives of civilians there, UN rights experts and humanitarians said on Friday.
On Thursday, Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, warned that hundreds of thousands of people in northeast Syria have been left vulnerable following the Turkish military incursion.
“Of the more than 200,000 people who fled the fighting in recent weeks, close to 100,000 people have not yet been able to return home and are dispersed across improvised camps and collective shelters,” she said in a statement.
These recent displacements have compounded an already dire situation in which 710,000 people were already displaced, and approximately 1.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, Ms. Rochdi’s explained.
At least 92 people have been killed in northeastern and northwestern Syria in the weeks following 9 October, when Turkish forces invaded Kurdish-held border areas in the northeast, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR).
“Civilians continue to pay a very high price in the ongoing hostilities in Syria,” said OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville.
Noting that victims had come under fire from airstrikes and ground-based strikes, he added that people are increasingly being targeted by the “indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in populated areas, including in local markets”.
In a related warning, Mr. Colville said that people recently displaced during the military offensive have been “subsequently…subjected to arbitrary detention, in addition to enforced disappearances, after returning to their homes. This is occurring both in areas controlled by Turkish forces and Turkish-affiliated armed groups and in areas controlled by Kurdish armed groups.”
Idlib medics, health facilities, under fire
In Syria’s northwest, meanwhile, medical professionals continue to be at grave risk. Health facilities “continue to be directly hit or significantly damaged whenever there is a military escalation in Idlib”, OHCHR’s Mr. Colville said.
Just this week, “four separate facilities were damaged”, he noted, taking the total number of health facilities that OHCHR has recorded being hit since 29 April to 61.
“We can’t determine if every single attack is deliberate,” Mr. Colville added, “but the large scale of these attacks – as I say, 61 separate facilities, considerably more actual strikes hitting those facilities, given some of them were hit two, three, four times, and the fact that it’s happening every time there’s a military escalation strongly suggests that Government-affiliated forces are conducting these strikes are at least partly if not always deliberately striking health facilities. But I think we’ll have to…and of course, that would amount to a war crime.”
In a new development related to thousands of Syrians held by the Government, Mr. Colville explained that it was concerning that families have been receiving death notifications from the Government authorities.
“Basically telling them that their relatives, or family members who were detained or forcibly disappeared have died in custody.”
UN humanitarians meanwhile warned that a serious funding crisis risks leaving hundreds of thousands of Syrians vulnerable to deteriorating weather conditions.
“Of the $295 million we required in 2019, we have received just $138 million,” said Marixie Mercado, spokesperson, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF): “Despite the massive security, access and capacity challenges, this funding shortfall now represents the most serious obstacle we face in reaching children who need help urgently.”
Listing the many urgent interventions that would no longer be possible without that funding, Ms. Mercado explained that it would mean “not providing emergency water, sanitation and hygiene support to over 100,000 people, nor improving poor water supplies to 300,000 more. Not providing 55,000 children with routine immunization, and nearly 140,000 women and children with health and nutrition consultations.”
According to OCHA, the UN humanitarian coordinating office, the overall UN appeal requires nearly $3.3 billion but is only 52 per cent funded.
15 Oct. 2019
Humanitarian Aid urgently required in areas affected by Conflict in Syria: IOM Director General
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is deeply concerned by the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in northern Syria, where heavy fighting is displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.
According to humanitarian partners, an estimated 190,000 people have fled their homes in northeast Syria since the latest round of military operations began last Wednesday.
“All parties to the conflict must adhere to International Humanitarian Law. Humanitarians must be allowed access to the displaced in order to provide urgent medical and lifesaving assistance,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino.
Many of Syria’s 6.1 million internally displaced have been repeatedly forced from their homes, in some cases after they have returned to their communities. Between May and August of this year, fighting displaced an estimated 400,000 Syrians in the northwest of the country.
“The cycle of successive displacement is particularly concerning. Continued military operations will have devastating consequences for the seven million people living in Northern Syria,” DG Vitorino added.
United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and the United Nations Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Karen Smith, also expressed their alarm over the current situation in northeast Syria following the launch of a military operation by Turkey on 09 October.
The Special Advisers stated that “the civilians of Syria continue to live through one of the worst conflicts of our time, with repeated violations of their basic rights and protections guaranteed under international law. This latest escalation of the conflict again puts civilians at grave risk.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported on a number of civilian casualties, including allegations of summary executions, and humanitarian actors report that nearly 200,000 civilians have been displaced since the start of the military operation.”
The Special Advisers stress that Turkish authorities and all parties to the conflict in Syria need to ensure strict adherence to the legal obligation to protect civilians. This is the responsibility of all State and non-State actors.
No civilian should be forced to leave their home against their will. In addition, any return of refugees needs to be voluntary and when conditions are safe for them to do so sustainably.
The Special Advisers also urged the international community, and the Security Council in particular, to do more to uphold the responsibility to protect civilians in the Syrian conflict.
The repeated failure of the Security Council to speak with a united voice and to take action to protect civilian populations at risk of serious violations goes against the responsibility to protect principle, a commitment made by all Member States.
The Special Advisers reiterated calls for de-escalation and for a political solution to the Syria crisis stating that “far too many civilians have already been victims of atrocity crimes in Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011 and millions of Syrians remain at risk of these crimes.
Until there is a sustainable political solution to the crisis, one in which all communities in the country have a voice and their rights can be protected, the risk of atrocity crimes remains a reality”.
Following the launch of Turkish military operations and the extremely volatile situation in northeast Syria, international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has taken the difficult decision to suspend the majority of its activities and evacuate all its international staff from northeast Syria.
These have been extremely difficult decisions, as MSF is very aware of the needs of fleeing and vulnerable people in the region.
However, the highly unpredictable and fast-changing situation at present has made it impossible for MSF to negotiate safe access to deliver healthcare and provide humanitarian assistance to people in distress. Given the numerous groups fighting on different sides of the conflict, MSF can no longer guarantee the safety of our Syrian and international staff.
“The people in northeast Syria have already endured years of conflict and uncertainty. The latest developments have only increased the need for humanitarian assistance, yet it is impossible to deliver it with the current insecurity,” says Robert Onus, MSF Emergency Manager for Syria.
“It is with a heavy heart that MSF has taken the difficult decision to suspend the majority of its activities and evacuate its international staff out of northeast Syria. We cannot operate at scale until we can gain the assurances and acceptance of all parties to the conflict that we can operate safely.
The decision to suspend the majority of MSF’s activities comes as the humanitarian situation spirals further out of control and needs are likely to increase.
Today, as MSF teams depart, we have heard from our staff that the people in Ain Issa camp are severely lacking food, water and medical assistance. Just last week, MSF teams were providing healthcare and, supplying water and mental health support to people living in the camp. Now they are left in a very precarious situation and we are extremely worried for their wellbeing.
MSF calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians. We further call on them to provide humanitarian organisations with safe and unhindered access to the civilian population so they can deliver assistance, at a time when it is urgently needed.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): “We estimate that nearly 70,000 children have been displaced since hostilities in northeast Syria escalated nearly a week ago. At least 170,000 children could require humanitarian assistance due to the violence.
As violence continues to escalate, UNICEF renews its calls on all parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them to protect children at all times. Those fighting in the northeast and elsewhere in Syria must protect civilian infrastructure and not use it for military gains.
During the course of the offensive or defending against it, all parties should take action to a avoid attacking areas where civilians, including children may be found; prevent children from being separated from their caregivers; and allow unimpeded access by independent humanitarian organizations to deliver life-saving assistance to children and families affected by the conflict.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO): “Already weakened health services in northeast Syria have been severely impacted by the latest developments. The national hospital in Ras Al-Ain is currently out of service, and the national hospital and two health centres in Tel Abyad are also currently non-functional.
Health facilities in camps hosting displaced people in Ain Issa and Ras al Ain have also been evacuated, with additional facilities under threat as the conflict rapidly escalates.
A number of health partners have already suspended services due to insecurity, further disrupting access to essential health care services.
WHO calls on all parties to the conflict to preserve the right to health of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in northeast Syria and comply with international humanitarian law to protect all civilians including health-care workers and patients.”
Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP): WFP calls on all parties to ensure that vital supply routes are kept open and safe for humanitarian deliveries. Without such access, people in need across Syria would be in grave danger.
Aug. 2019
More children killed in Idlib in last four weeks than all of 2018 reports Save the Children
The number of children killed in Idlib in the last four weeks has exceeded the total for 2018, Save the Children and its partner organization Hurras Network have found, as the latest escalation of fighting claimed the lives of eight children on Monday.
The escalation in violence which started at the end of April has now resulted in the deaths of at least 400 people, including 90 children, and displaced 440,000 people. Save the Children and Hurras Network can confirm that at least 33 children have been killed since June 24th, compared to 31 children killed during all of 2018.
This week has been the deadliest since fighting escalated in northwest Syria – which is home to 3 million people. Multiple airstrikes and shelling have left more than 66 people dead and hundreds injured. Bodies, some torn into pieces or burnt beyond recognition, are still being recovered from the rubble.
Many of the victims are women and children, some of them suffering the most horrific injuries, according to the UN and field reports.
“The current situation in Idlib is a nightmare. The injuries we are seeing are horrific. It’s clear that once again children have been killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks,” Sonia Khush, Save the Children Syria Response Director, said.
“The bombardment is relentless. It seems as though the different sides have stopped fighting each other and are fighting us, civilians, now. It’s just senseless brutality. I saw dozens of people killed in the marketplace, torn to pieces, including many young children who were playing on the street. They should have been safe,” Ahmad, an eyewitness, told Save the Children.
Humanitarian agencies are already struggling to respond to the displacement across northwest Syria. Civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, continue to be damaged or destroyed.
In the last two weeks, at least four medical facilities have been impacted by the violence, as well as a water station serving more than 80,000 people, and several schools, settlements for displaced civilians, markets and bakeries, according to the UN. At least eight water facilities that provided drinking water for around 250,000 people in southern Idlib have been attacked in the last two months alone, as summer temperatures soar and civilians are at increased threat of diseases.
“The children of northwest Syria have been caught in violent conflict for 80 days with no lull. They have been denied education, food, healthcare and forced to sleep under the trees in open fields for months now,” Khush added.
Across Syria, 2.1 million children are out of school and 1.3 million are at risk of dropping out. In the northwest, at least 44 schools have been damaged or destroyed recently, as attacks on educational facilities and personnel have increased. Save the Children is calling on all parties to the conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law and human rights law, and to place the protection of civilians first. Schools, hospitals and other vital civilian infrastructure must be protected from attacks.
Another deadly week in Idlib. (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect)
At least 39 civilians were killed at a vegetable market in the city of Maarat al-Numan on Monday, 22 July. The market was allegedly hit by Russian airstrikes, although the Russian government denies this. According to the UN, at least 20 civilians were also killed by airstrikes in other parts of Idlib Governorate, marking one of the deadliest days since government and Russian forces escalated their offensive on the region on 29 April. The UN claims that more than 330,000 people have been displaced since the end of April, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that more than 700 civilians have been killed.
The Idlib offensive has been characterized by the deliberate targeting of civilian-populated areas, including the use of illegal cluster munitions, barrel bombs and incendiary weapons. The armed extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of Idlib, also continues to indiscriminately fire rockets towards government-held areas of nearby Aleppo and Hama.
Urging the UN Security Council to take action, on 18 July the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said that “Since 1 July at least six health facilities, five schools, three water stations, two bakeries, and one ambulance have been damaged or destroyed… The carnage must stop.. Deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, violate International Humanitarian Law and may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The international community must act now to protect the lives of the millions of civilians living in Idlib governorate. Syrian government forces and their Russian allies, as well as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and all other armed groups, should all commit to an immediate ceasefire and the full implementation of the September 2018 demilitarized zone agreement''.
June 2019
Briefing to the UN Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Idlib by Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
''I briefed this Council one month ago on the worsening humanitarian situation in Idlib. Ten days later, my deputy alerted you to further violence and destruction. Violence, involving Syrian Government forces and their allies, armed opposition forces, and the Security Council-listed terrorist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, continued throughout the holy Eid al-Fitr period. It has still not stopped despite the announcement of a truce on 12 June.
Over the last six weeks, the conduct of hostilities has resulted in more than 230 civilian deaths, including 69 women and 81 children. Hundreds more have been injured.
Since 1 May, an estimated 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, moving northwards towards the border with Turkey. That''s almost double the number of newly displaced people since my last briefing to you.
A recent rapid assessment found that many of them have moved multiple times since the start of the conflict, some of them have moved as often as ten times. This is a particular feature of the Idlib area. People fled initially from other parts of Syria, then people moved again and again and again, constantly searching for safety.
Camps for the displaced people are overcrowded, with many people forced to stay in the open. Those who remain in towns and villages close to the fighting live in constant fear of the next attack. Many are crowding into basements, seeking refuge from air strikes, volleys of shells and mortar rounds, from fighting which continue to threaten what is left of their homes.
Hospitals, schools and markets have been hit. Power stations have been affected. Crops have been burned. Children are forced out of school.
We have had reports this morning of another 19 people killed yesterday by airstrikes and artillery shelling. And this past weekend, civilians were killed by mortar and rocket attacks in the Al-Wadehy area to the south of Aleppo city.
In short, we are facing a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes. There is no denying the facts.
The UN and its partners have been responding with emergency food assistance through ready-to-eat rations, reaching more than 190,000 people in May. In addition, the UN and its partners have been reaching nearly 800,000 people with general food assistance.
Water, health and sanitation supplies have been distributed to some 180,000 displaced people, and water trucking has been made available to people in some 342 camps and informal settlements.. Cross-border assistance remains the only means of reaching people in and around Idlib.
The UN and the brave humanitarian workers on the ground are doing all they can. They are risking their lives to help others. But the response is stretched and a further increase in need brought on by additional fighting would risk seeing it overwhelmed.
To this day, we continue to receive reports of attacks impacting civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals. Since April, according to reports, 37 schools have been affected.
More than 250,000 children are out of school. Some 400,000 students have had their exams cancelled. And 94 schools are currently being used as shelters. As UNICEF said last week, no parent should fear sending their child to a school that may be bombed later that day.
I need to remind you again Mr. President of the incidents affecting health facilities. 26 incidents affecting healthcare facilities in northwestern Syria have been confirmed by the World Health Organization since late April. Eight more than when I last briefed you. Two of those facilities were located in an area controlled by the Government of Syria.
Many other hospitals have closed out of fear of being attacked. These attacks don''t just claim innocent lives. They also deprive thousands of civilians of basic health services, even as fighting intensifies around them.
As you know, some of these hospitals had been deconflicted through the UN''s de-confliction mechanism. All parties have specific obligations to refrain from attacking protected sites under international humanitarian law, regardless of whether they have been de-conflicted or not. It is appalling that these sites were hit in the first place. But hitting a facility whose coordinates were shared as part of the UN''''s de-confliction system is simply intolerable.
A number of partners now feel that supplying geographical coordinates to be given to the warring parties effectively paints a target on their backs. Some have drawn the conclusion that hospital bombings are a deliberate tactic aimed at terrorizing people. This whole episode raises deep questions about the de-confliction system. We are discussing this internally, and I will tell you what our conclusions are at the regular monthly humanitarian briefing that we are due to give you next week.
UN Security Council-listed terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has a significant presence in Idlib and is responsible for its own share of the suffering there. Countering HTS is plainly a major challenge.
But counter-terrorism efforts cannot in any way absolve States of their obligations to uphold international humanitarian law. And that is the bottom line, Mr President, just as the Secretary-General said earlier, international humanitarian law must be upheld and attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure need to stop and they need to stop immediately''.
June 2019
44 Syrian and International NGOs Call for Immediate End to Attacks on Civilians and Hospitals in Idlib, Syria
Three million civilians in northwest Syria are scared and many are homeless. With no concrete actions taken beyond political statements and promises, Syria and the world may soon be witnessing the “worst humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century”. Rescue and medical workers on the ground are warning that they have not seen such ferocious attacks in eight years in Idlib. If the conflict continues to escalate, as many as 700,000 people could be displaced from their homes in Syria’s last opposition stronghold.
According to the United Nations, over 200,000 people were forced to flee the continuous bombing and shelling of towns in southern Idlib and northern Hama and have few options to seek safety. Up to 80,000 of those who have fled are sleeping rough with no shelter, and many others are crammed into overcrowded homes.
Since the beginning of the escalation at the end of April, the United Nations confirmed at least 105 have been killed, 3 IDP sites were impacted, and 17 schools have been damaged or destroyed. The United Nations has counted 23 attacks on 20 health facilities, some of them hit twice. 49 have had to suspend their operations due to attacks or insecurity.
Some of the health facilities that were attacked were on the de-conflicted list provided to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“Attacks on community hospitals, including specialized maternity centers left thousands without medical care in Aleppo and East Ghouta,” said Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, SAMS President.
“Last year, our medical staff on the ground agreed to share hospital coordinates as part of the UN de-confliction mechanism: The United Nations has a responsibility to protect these hospitals and present a tangible plan to deter such attacks. The people of Syria have the right to know who is attacking and destroying their hospitals.”
Half of the three million people living in Idlib are internally displaced already and have experienced this violence time and again over the course of this conflict. The memory of Aleppo, East Ghouta, and Daraa, is still fresh in their minds, as they fear the latest offensive is only an indicator to the full-scale assault to come.
“Half of Syria’s population has already been displaced by eight years of war, yet the worst may still come,” said Arnaud Quemin, Mercy Corps’ Syria Country Director. “While entire communities were forced to flee and sought shelter in Idlib, three million people there, half of whom are internally displaced already, now fear they will have nowhere to go if war comes again to their doorsteps.”
There is no justification for ongoing attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Parties to the conflict have a legal obligation to protect civilians and spare them from the worst effects of the fighting and to avoid attacking schools, hospitals and homes. Clearly these rules are being violated in northwest Syria today.
In response to the recent alarming chapters of military escalation, we, the undersigned Syrian and international human rights, humanitarian and solidarity organizations, urge all parties to act quickly to ensure the protection of civilians in northwest Syria and compliance with international humanitarian law:
The United Nations Security Council members have a mandate to ensure the protection of civilians and maintain international peace and security. They cannot keep hiding behind divisions in the Council to allow the worst to happen in Idlib, and should exercise all the pressure they can on warring parties to end the hostilities, stop the systematic attacks on civilian infrastructure, and ensure that cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access is facilitated to allow aid agencies to reach all communities in need, in compliance with UNSC resolution 2393.
We also call on UNSC members to work with Turkey and Russia to honor their commitments to the so-called demilitarized zone agreement signed by both parties in September 2018 and implement an immediate ceasefire over the entirety of northwest Syria.
Members of the Security Council should support the Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen to engage parties and broker a peaceful resolution of the security situation in Idlib to avert further bloodshed and urge all parties to return to the table to negotiate a political settlement to the conflict.
* Children and armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. Of Syria’s 6.2 Million displaced people, 2.6 million are children, roughly 42 percent:

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