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Regular Press Briefing by the Information Service, 4 February 2020: Libya, Syria

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Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Libyan military talks

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed about this morning’s press stakeout by Ghassan Salamé, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, on the occasion of the start of a meeting in Geneva of the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission. Mr. Salamé had said it was the very first time senior military officers from both sides of the Libyan conflict were meeting. The talks were very important to discuss how to consolidate the truce agreed to in early January and move towards a more permanent ceasefire. A transcript of the press stakeout would be sent out shortly. In response to questions, Mr. LeBlanc said Mr. Salamé had said the meeting was expected to last at least until Thursday. He had also expressed the hope that political talks could be held in Geneva within weeks.

Situation in Idlib, Syria

Jenifer Fenton, for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, said that the Special Envoy, Geir O. Pedersen, was alarmed by the continued and further escalation of violence in Syria’s northwest, the consequences of which were devastating and the price the civilians were paying was high. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced, and their numbers continued to swell. The most vulnerable – women, children, and the elderly – were particularly affected. Any attacks on civilian objects, which continued to be reported, were unacceptable. There needed to be strict respect of rules, respect of civilians and civilian objects, and observance of the principles of proportionality and distinction. There was an urgent need for a renewed focus on finding a political solution, facilitated by the United Nations.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed that the UN and humanitarian partners were scaling up their response for hundreds of thousands of people displaced in northwest Syria. Since 1 December 2019, some 520,000 people had been displaced from their homes, the majority of them women and children. They urgently needed shelter, food, medicine, and, not least, protection. An additional 280,000 people from urban centres on the M4/M5 highway axis were at imminent risk of displacement if ongoing military operations continued. The humanitarian community had a plan in place to address up to 800,000 people in need in northwest Syria over the next six months; USD 336 million was needed for the implementation of those emergency humanitarian programs. There were no safe places in Idlib, with bombs falling everywhere and anywhere, staff from the ground reported. The scale of the crisis was overwhelming and the available aid was not enough.

Responding to a question, Mr. Laerke said that information from the OHCHR showed that from 20 to 30 January there had been 83 verified civilian deaths in Idlib.

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that 53 health facilities had ceased operations in northwest Syria the previous month. Not all of them had been destroyed; some had been abandoned due to population movements. In January, two separate attacks on healthcare facilities had taken place, claiming 10 lives and leading to numerous injuries. There were fears of outbreaks of measles, polio, and diarrhoea. About two months of supplies of essential medicines had been positioned on both sides of the Syria-Turkey border. The current gap for funding for the health needs in northwest Syria was USD 8.6 million.