Syria military solution 'an illusion', says UN envoy Geir Pedersen

ISIS raid on Hassakeh prison complex described as 'unprecedented'

The UN’s envoy to Syria said a two-year stalemate has rendered a military solution “an illusion”.

“It is ... clear that a strategic stalemate does exist,” Geir Pedersen told the UN Security Council.

“There [have] been no shifts in front lines for nearly two years. It is clear that no existing actor or group of actors can determine the trajectory or outcome of this conflict and, indeed, that the military solution remains an illusion.”

Mr Pedersen also called last week’s ISIS raid on a Hassakeh prison complex run by the US-supported, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) “unprecedented”.

“There have reportedly been dozens of fatalities,” Mr Pedersen said. “We understand that in the last few hours, the SDF have taken back control and all or most ISIS fighters seem to have surrendered.”

On Wednesday, the SDF said it had detained 1,000 extremists and confiscated their weapons.

At least 160 people have been killed since the ISIS attack on the prison began last Thursday.

“Even if this particular [ISIS] uprising might have been quashed, this episode brings back terrible memories of the prison breaks that fuelled the original rise of [ISIS] in 2014 and 2015,” Mr Pedersen said.

The concern has also been raised by Maj Gen John Brennan Jr, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force to combat ISIS.

“Daesh remains an existential threat to the region, and it must not be allowed to regenerate,” he said on Wednesday.

The UN envoy also reminded the Security Council of the latest figures related to the Syria war, which is now in its 12th year.

“Four million civilians now need humanitarian assistance. More than 12 million remain displaced – and many are right now facing freezing winter conditions. Tens of thousands are detained, abducted or missing,” he said.

“The economy of Syria has collapsed. Criminality and smuggling are flourishing. And there are reports of young people seeking any opportunity to leave the country, sometimes falling prey to traffickers and warlords.”

Committee wants resolution

Mr Pedersen also called for the resumption of the political process.

“I am actively engaged in seeking to reconvene the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, UN-facilitated Constitutional Committee.”

The committee’s aim was a reconciliation between President Bashar Al Assad and the opposition, through the amendment of the constitution or the drafting of a new one which both sides can agree on.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. EPA

Although created in 2019, the committee only began talks 18 months later and has met six times without a clear sign of progress.

The Russian envoy to Syria, which backs the Assad regime, did not seem optimistic about the committee’s purpose.

“If somebody pursues the aim of creating a new constitution for the sake of changing the powers of the president and, thereby, to change power in Damascus, this road leads to nowhere,” Alexander Lavrentiev said last month.

Shortly after, an opposition member of the committee, Ibrahim Al Jebawi, withdrew from his position during a televised interview.

Mr Al Jebawi said the Russian official’s statement “assured my previous convictions”.

In Wednesday‘s session, Mr Pedersen once again called the committee’s work “disappointing”.

“The present challenge is to ensure that the delegations not only table constitutional texts but are prepared to revise them in light of the discussions, to try to find some common ground or, at least, narrow differences,” he said.

Updated: January 27, 2022, 5:22 AM