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Syria insists on its ‘sovereignty’ in U.N. aid resolution

A man comforts another man reacting at a site hit by what activists said was an air raid by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Bab al-Nayrab district in Aleppo February 21, 2014. (REUTERS/Jalal Al-Mamo)

DAMASCUS/BEIRUT: Syria said Sunday it was ready to cooperate with a rare U.N. Security Council resolution to allow humanitarian access that United Nations officials have expressed hope could lead to broader political agreement, if respects “state sovereignty.”

A Saudi source, meanwhile, said Riyadh was in talks with Islamabad to provide anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets to Syrian rebels to try to tip the balance in the conflict.

In Damascus, the Foreign Ministry said the “root causes” of the humanitarian crisis must be treated, singling out “foreign-backed terrorism” and sanctions placed on President Bashar Assad’s regime by Western and Arab countries.

The Security Council, which has been sharply divided over the nearly 3-year-old Syrian conflict, Saturday unanimously adopted Resolution 2139, which calls for humanitarian aid convoys to be allowed access across the war-torn country.

According to the ministry statement, carried by state news agency SANA, Syria is ready to cooperate with the U.N. mission and international humanitarian organizations “to agree on the implementation of Resolution 2139.”

It said the resolution must be implemented “with respect for the principles laid out in the U.N. Charter, international law and the basic foundations of humanitarian work, especially state sovereignty and the role of the state, and principles of neutrality, transparency and non-politicized assistance.”

Damascus said the resolution, which condemns terror attacks by Al-Qaeda-linked organizations, was an “admission” by the Security Council of the presence of “extremist Al-Qaeda-linked terrorism” in Syria.

It described the U.N. condemnation as “a step in the right direction.”

Since the March 2011 start of Syria’s uprising – which began as peaceful protests but escalated into a civil war after security forces repeatedly attacked demonstrators – Assad’s regime has blamed the violence on foreign-backed “terrorism.”

Syria’s staunch ally Russia, with support from China, had blocked three previous resolutions aimed at pressuring the Damascus regime since March 2011.

But Moscow and Beijing, two of the five permanent Security Council members, did not do so this time, sending a strong message to Assad, whose government is accused of serious rights violations.

The Security Council resolution calls on “all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas.”

An earlier draft of the resolution had threatened sanctions should Syria fail to comply, but Russia refused and distributed a draft of its own, which included the language on “fighting terrorism” in Syria.

The resolution is the second Security Council decision since Syria’s war began. It follows a decision ordering the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal, after an August 21, 2013, chemical attack near Damascus killed hundreds of people.

It also comes amid stalled political negotiations in Geneva between the regime, the opposition and their foreign backers, which saw a limited cease-fire and aid deal in the central city of Homs, but has appeared to make little breakthrough on big political issues including the fate of Assad and the powers of any transitional government.

One U.N. official, familiar with the talks, told The Daily Star there was now broad agreement on two main issues, indicating chances of a political breakthrough were better than before.

“There is agreement by the U.S. and the Russians that foreign fighters have got to go and that the jihadists are a common foe,” the official said on condition of anonymity.Another Beirut-based U.N. official said there was informal discussion about the possibility that aid channels could pave the way for broader political agreement. “At least it means there is chance to re-establish communications through having people on the ground,” the official said.

Nadim Houry, a Middle East deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said the resolution was “a political breakthrough but words will not feed Syrians in desperate need of food.”

Without the threat of sanctions, “it is up to Syria’s allies, particularly Russia and Iran, to ensure that the Syrian government gets the message, and stops using the starvation of civilians as a weapon of war,” he said.

Reflecting skepticism on the ground, an activist from Douma near the Syrian capital told AFP: “We would really like humanitarian corridors to become a reality. But I really doubt it, especially as the resolution doesn’t mention sanctions.”

Also reflecting doubts about any political deal, in the wake of the failure of Geneva peace talks earlier this month, a Saudi source said Riyadh was seeking Pakistani arms for the Syrian rebels it supports in the wake of the failure of Geneva peace talks earlier this month.

The source, requesting anonymity, pointed to a visit to Riyadh earlier this month by Pakistan’s army chief of staff, General Raheel Sharif, who met Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

Pakistan manufactures shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank rockets – both of which Riyadh is trying to get for the rebels, said the source, who is close to Saudi decision-makers.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 24, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Syria said Sunday it was ready to cooperate with a rare U.N. Security Council resolution to allow humanitarian access that United Nations officials have expressed hope could lead to broader political agreement, if respects "state sovereignty".

A Saudi source, meanwhile, said Riyadh was in talks with Islamabad to provide anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets to Syrian rebels to try to tip the balance in the conflict.

The Security Council, which has been sharply divided over the nearly 3-year-old Syrian conflict, Saturday unanimously adopted Resolution 2139, which calls for humanitarian aid convoys to be allowed access across the war-torn country.

Damascus said the resolution, which condemns terror attacks by Al-Qaeda-linked organizations, was an "admission" by the Security Council of the presence of "extremist Al-Qaeda-linked terrorism" in Syria.

Syria's staunch ally Russia, with support from China, had blocked three previous resolutions aimed at pressuring the Damascus regime since March 2011 .

The resolution is the second Security Council decision since Syria's war began.


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