SdeM: Good afternoon. Much is happening, and it has been a long meeting on the humanitarian taskforce for obvious reasons. There have been a lot of new developments this week in terms of military activities and militarization of the conflict and that the so called “battle for Aleppo” is becoming again one major issue which is drawing attention from the political but also from the humanitarian point of view. Next week frankly is going to be crucial on that. Regarding what we sadly start looking at as the “battle for Aleppo,” it is currently proving one thing once again, and I did refer to that when I spoke to the Security Council two days ago, no military sustainable solution is possible in Aleppo or nowhere else in Syria. It seems that this is sometimes forgotten, but what has happened and what has been happening in Aleppo the last few days, with attacks and counter-attacks is once again proving it. Secondly, that in all of this, again, civilians on both sides of the conflict, on both sides of Aleppo, are in danger, of being surrounded and affected by shortages and bombings. Regarding the Russian Federation announcement, first of all, we, the UN, were not consulted, second, based on what we heard from Yacoub El Hillo, our Humanitarian Coordinator in Damascus, three hours are not enough. Next point, we have been reiterating, we need 48 hours, in order to make convoys doable and effective. But we have noted today, from the Russian Federation its positive availability and willingness to discuss as soon as possible, with the UN, how to improve what has been, in my opinion, an initial idea. Now, elsewhere, military acceleration of the conflict is affecting many people, and many people are waiting for the military and political discussions between the co-chairs to produce some type of effect. Let me then refer to a very effective message that Yacoub El Hillo gave to us from Damascus. Kareem Yaseen Abdul Rahman, 9 years old, Lemar Saif El-Deen, 10 months, Sayed Adnan Kheitu, 6 years old, Ibrahim Adnan Kheitu, 11 years old, Wissam Wajih Yousef, 14 years old, Hammam Mahmoud al Marashali, 6 years old, Rawan Jamil Shada, 24 years old, Najah Adi Yousef, a year and three months old, Rawad Maoul, 4 years old, Ahmed Hussein Al-Halbouni, 30 years old, Mohamed Ramiz Ankish, 17 years old, Anas Az-zeeldeen, 6 months, Saraj Amer Abdulwahab, one year old, Ghani Ahmad Kuwaider, 10 years old, Lena Radda’ al-Shamaa, 22 years old, Yamen Ezzedine, 8 years old, all of them are stuck in Madaya, and they are in desperate, urgent, medical evacuation need. Those who control access, and reference was by Yacoub El Hillo, are the Hezbollah and the Government. The UN is ready to evacuate them, they are in desperate, urgent medical emergency, why on earth this should not be possible? This should not be waiting for the Aleppo ceasefire, or an overall ceasefire. This should and can be done before it’s too late. At the same time, Nada Mohammad Ali Kurdi, 32 years old, and Mariam Al Kurdy, 45 years old, in Fua, are both in the same emergency medical situation, and both of them, one of them shot in the chest, and the other one is a very serious infection, both of them are in Fua and here the key is in the hands of Ahrar Al-Sham and its allies. They too, can, just by a decision of a minute, allow the UN to evacuate them and bring them to a medical facility where they could be saved. These are not numbers, these are people who are waiting to be medically evacuated, in what has become a medieval approach to a conflict. Now back to us on other issues. You are aware that Russian and American teams have been meeting in this building, they have been recently focusing on the Castello road developments, and on general new approaches for reduction of violence. We have been supporting and helping those discussions which are still ongoing, and we at the UN will do anything to assist such meetings of the co-chairs. But time is of essence. Both the Russian and the American delegations are aware of it. Regarding the intra-Syrian talks, I will not elaborate further to what I have already said at the Security Council.
JE: Thank you Staffan. The stakes cannot be higher in the coming days, because, really, millions of Syrian civilians are now in a seeming free fall, from Aleppo to Eastern Ghouta, from Fua and Kefraya to Zabadani and Madaya, and to the whole people of Darayya, who are still waiting the second half of the first convoy that they promised them. It is heart wrenching for thousands of humanitarian workers in and around Syria to not be allowed by the fighting to come to the rescues as a lifeline to these millions of people. There are enormous resources ready and humanitarian workers willing to take the risk to go into these zones, if they get the permission, and they are not at the moment. Nowhere is the battle raging so brutally for the civilian population as in Aleppo. What is the new is that the situations in eastern and western Aleppo for civilians have now been very much interlinked. They rely on the same electrical power plants that serve the same water pumping stations and they are now without water and without electricity regularly. That is of course, also, an opening to some extent, because now they also rely to a large extent on the same access road, Castello road, and it's the road where we would like to serve both eastern Aleppo and western Aleppo. Today in the meeting, the Russian delegation confirmed their willingness to sit down with us today and tomorrow to try to agree on a workable humanitarian pause for us to go the Aleppo road and to help the people in the east and in the west. Three hours is indeed not enough, it’s really nothing. We need 48 hours, that’s how we see it now and we want to sit down with the Russian side. We need a pause in the fighting that has to be guaranteed by the Russians, the US, the Government (of Syria) and the armed opposition groups, we need 48 hours, because the people are so many, the convoys have to be picked, the roads are so destroyed, there are so many dangers, the logistics are so enormous that we need time each week and we need 48 hours. We also need a life line, cross-line from within Syria, Damascus and elsewhere, and we need a cross-border life line, because much of the resources available are across the border in Turkey. We need inspection schemes to make sure that all items to those areas are purely and solely humanitarian. Nobody understands better than Staffan and I and the humanitarian people that this is taking too long, this should have happened a long time ago. In the Four Towns, the children bleeding to death can be helped today, tomorrow, we are willing and able to evacuate them and give them the care that they need so that their lives be saved. The next hours will decide whether these children will die or whether they will survive. Who can make it happen, that they live? Well, Iran, Hezbollah, Ahrar al-Sham, and those countries that support opposition groups. In the city of four bridges, Istanbul, the Four Towns agreement was negotiated, and can also be revived there, and we hope it will happen without delay.
Q: Est-ce que votre projet de relancer le dialogue Syrien a la fin du mois est toujours valable avec ce qui se passe actuellement à Alep ? Qu’en est-t-il de la participation des Kurdes ? Est-ce qu’on a une vision plus optimiste de faire des dialogues directes entre les partis ?
SdeM: J’étais assez clair au conseil de sécurité sur ça, et à propos des autres détails que vous avez mentionné, je pense que il faudra aussi voir les résultats de la visite du président Erdogan en Russie et sa rencontre avec le président Putin, qui a sans doute traité de la question du dialogue intra-Syrien et de la participation à ce dialogue, ici à Geneve.
Q: Sir, to the Security Council you said that you still hoped that the talks would start by the the end of August but I am wondering, what gives you reason to hope for that, it doesn't seem like the situation is going very well, I mean, do you really expect this will be possible while what is going on in Aleppo is happening? Thank you
SdeM: It is not a matter of hope it is a matter of determination of maintaining a certain target in front of us in order to make sure that those who can contribute to that feel the responsibility for making that happening. We need a target timing and the target timing is still towards the end of August.
Now I did also say in that occasion that while that is a target date, there is and should be no preconditions because if there are preconditions, those who don't want the talks to take place, could actually use those preconditions as a spoiling element in order to not have the talks take place.
Then I indicated that there are certain aspects that are unavoidably, according to everyone, both the Syrian government frankly and the opposition, important, in order to make sure that those talks, when they takes place, will have a chance to be constructive and effective. And I mentioned four, and you are probably familiar with those.
Q: I would like to ask you whether Russia had planned actually to institute the three-hour humanitarian pause today, has Russia abandoned this in light of the talks that you are having in order to try to lengthen the time for this to occur, and also about two weeks ago Russia had established four corridors to leave the Aleppo, is that a dead issue now, and finally the dropping of the chlorine toxic gases, is that a war crime? Is that something that you are pressing with both the Americans and the Russians to lean upon the government to stop doing?
SdeM: Regarding the three hours, what we can say is what you heard from Jan and from myself that when we learnt and what Stephen O’Brien learnt in New York, we learnt it from the media ourselves. Regarding this initiative of the three hours, the reply today in the humanitarian task force was that any pause obviously should be seen and looked at with great interest because a pause means no fighting, but three hours are not enough.
And secondly, in order to organise sufficient and credible convoys we are talking of a 48 hours. On the other hand, the Russian reaction here at the task force was: we heard you, we need to talk in order to see how we can improve our original proposal. Well, we are available and interested in talking to ensure that the announcement about the three hours could be developed into a concrete proposal.
That's what I can tell you at the moment, the rest will depend on the further discussions with the Russians. We have made our point clear, they have indicated their willingness to discuss, we should see what is the outcome.
Regarding the four corridors proposal you also recall that events have taken over some of those announcements, and the issue about the four corridors has been in a way, first qualified by the UN response that in order to be part of corridors of that size there is a series of conditionality and guarantees and elements that need to be implemented.
Having said that, there has been also an acceleration in the military activities and that's why to my knowledge what we saw as initial beginning of the use of those corridors by some people living and some commodities entering does not seem to be at the moment a current issue. That's why we are insisting on the Castelo road because there we could, as has been discussed, actually implement a substantial operation of humanitarian aid and, we have to admit, not only to eastern Aleppo where there are 300,000 potential people in need, but also to west Aleppo, now that the military activities from the opposition had put in danger their own population in order to have sufficient access. We care about all Syrians wherever they are.
JE: Just one point, we have to distinguish very clearly between the unilateral Russian proposal and initiatives that they do as an armed actor on the ground, and this is, according to them, to secure possibilities of evacuation, that has to be distinguished from the UN proposal for 48-hour pauses, two-way corridors, assistance in and voluntary evacuation out. What is a new and positive thing today is that the Russian Federation say they would like to sit down with us, and the other co-chair and discuss how the UN proposal could be implemented and we are hopeful that will lead to something.
SdeM: It is really not for me to assess who did it and whether it actually took place, although there is a lot of evidence that they actually did take place. We have a special UN and other organizations addressing that. But if it did take place, it is a war crime and as such it would require everyone, all the co-chairs and everyone else, to address it immediately. I think the investigation is still taking place and they are people more competent than you and I to be able to access that , but your point is well taken, that is a war crime.
[CORRIGENDUM NOTE: The Special Envoy’s intention in answering this question was to underline that if proven true, allegations of chemical attacks would constitute a war crime. He also meant to convey his sense that there should be an investigation into these allegations by the relevant international organisations.]
SdeM: Well first of all, perhaps you are more informed than I am about the details of those discussions, what I can say is two things, the first thing is Turkey is an extremely important player, stakeholder, in what has been happening and could be happening in terms of humanitarian assistance, and frankly even in finding a political process in Syria.
The very fact of its own border, the very fact of the number of refugees that are Syrian inside turkey just speaks for itself. The very fact that when we talk about a Castelo road access, the Castelo road main access in order to provide major quantities of humanitarian aid starts in Turkey, under a process that we have experienced which is called the UN monitoring mechanism. So I cannot under, or overestimate enough the importance of Turkish involvement in any solution in Syria.
Now we have been always looking forward to all members of the ISSG to have a cooperative attitude among them in order to reach a formula that can be implemented in Syria. So seeing the Turkish President and the Russian President talking about Syria and apparently coming up with some type of coordination or agreement is certainly something that we are looking with great interest at.
Q: Question concernant les pourparlers, don't vous annoncez la reprise a la fin du mois, est-ce que vous décryptez l’accélération de la militarisation et du conflit sur le terrain comme étant une opportunité pour relancer ces pourparlers ? est-ce que c’est un signe que les belligérants, chacun de leur cote, essayent d’obtenir un maximum de terrain et donc un bon moment pour relancer ces pourparlers ? et ensuite a combien à ce que vous évaluez vos chances d’obtenir d’avantage des Russes, pour élargir la période du cessez-le-feu.
SdeM: Pour la première question, c’est vrai, nous insistons sur la volonté, de vouloir procéder avec des pourparlers politiques et on a comme date, sur laquelle nous visons, vers la fin d’Aout. Nous savons aussi que n’importe quelle pause militaire, n’importe quelle accélération militaire, ne sera pas soutenable s’il n’y a pas un processus politique. La preuve, c’est qu’on a eu, le 26 Février, une remarquable réduction de violence, on a eu une remarquable augmentation de l’aide humanitaire, mais le moment où on n’a pas eu le processus politique qui bougeait à l’avance, ceux qui ne voulaient pas que ça marche, ont profité de ça. On a toujours noté, malheureusement, que quand il y a des chances de pourparlers politiques, les différentes parties ont tendance à rechercher une position physique et militaire logistique meilleure. Ça c’est très dommage, parce que, paradoxalement, ça produit une accélération militaire, mais de l’autre côté, ça devient aussi une accélération à l’envers, pour que tous ceux qui font partie du ISSG, trouvent un sens d’urgence pour arrêter cette accélération militaire avec des pourparlers politiques.