Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

NZ faces tough task to get breakthrough agreement on Syria

Syrian refugees in Turkey. Concern has grown as the violence in Syria has increased, including attacks on civilians and medical facilities. Photo: Jo Currie for World Vision
Syrian refugees in Turkey. Concern has grown as the violence in Syria has increased, including attacks on civilians and medical facilities. Photo: Jo Currie for World Vision

New Zealand hopes of a breakthrough in Syria during its Presidency of the Security Council next month will be a tough ask if a debate in the Security Council on Monday was anything to go by.

Concern has grown as the violence in Syria has increased, including attacks on civilians and medical facilities and an inability to agree on a ceasefire or 48 hour pause to get aid into areas under siege in Aleppo.

The UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien briefed the 15 member Council on Syria, referring to it as "the apex of horror" and calling for a 48 hour pause in attacks to allow aid convoys into Eastern Aleppo.

O'Brien spoke of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, the boy who caught global attention after he was pictured silently sitting covered in blood after an airstrike.

"His brother is dead. Omran was 'the lucky one' according to a local doctor.

Lucky. What a word in such a context. That is the reality of what is at stake this morning, here in this Chamber. Not the politicking and posturing, the power games and defensiveness. All we need is for the guns to fall silent."

However, the Security Council could not even agree on a joint statement on the issue let alone any binding resolution. O'Brien told the council no aid convoys had made it into the besieged area of Aleppo for the whole of August.

Speaking on behalf of New Zealand, Spain and Egypt, New Zealand Ambassador Carolyn Schwalger told the Security Council the three countries were "disappointed and frustrated" the Council could not agree on a statement.

The three countries are known as the 'penholders' on the humanitarian situation in Syria, meaning they take a leading role.

"It is disappointing that we are not able to agree on a response to the horrific humanitarian situation throughout Syria and the looming humanitarian situation in Aleppo. We must do better as a Council. The innocent civilians of Syria deserve no less from us," Schwalger said.

New Zealand will take its final turn as President of the Security Council in September.
It has chosen to focus on Syria but is depending on a breakthrough in talks between Russia, the USA - and the Syrian authorities - before then if it is to be any more than a talkfest.

Russia has supported a 48 hour ceasefire and is working on a plan with the US, but Syrian authorities also have to agree before it will go ahead.

The debate today included a testy exchange between Syria's UN representative Bashar Ja'afari and France's Alexis Lamek.

Syria's representative Bashar Ja'afari rejected accusations the Syrian government was responsible for many of the civilian bombings.

He said those criticising Syria's government on humanitarian grounds were guilty of a "deliberate distortion of facts."

"No one in the world will care more for the life of those Syrians or feel their pain more than us, the people and Government of Syria. No one but us pays the heavy toll for this terrorist war imposed against my country."

He accused the other states of a "conspiracy against Syria" and said the fighting would go on until there were no more armed terrorists in Syria.

In response, France's Alexis Lamek described Syria's statement as "derisory and grotesque" including "absurd" claims.

That prompted Ja'afari to retort that "absurd" could also apply to the policies of successive French governments.

"What has happened in my country is lies. Global public opinion knows of this. The people throughout the world know the extent to which the policies of their countries when it comes to my country are wrong."

He said the invasions of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Libya were all "based on a lie."

"How long are we going to continue to witness the destruction of states on the basis of things which are lies?"

Russia's ambassador Vitaly Churkin said work was underway to try to organise a pause in the fighting, but there was concern any ceasefire would be used by terrorists to replenish their stockpiles and regroup.

As pressure went on Russia to try to influence Syria's Assad regime, Churkin said those countries in turn should try to influence Syria's political opposition which they were supporting.

Some ambassadors, including the United Kingdom and United States, laid the blame for civilian deaths firmly at the hands of Syrian government forces and allies Russia. There were also accusations napalm and other chemical weapons were being used.

*Claire Trevett's trip to New York was funded by the Security Council Report and NZ's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

- NZ Herald

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