UN envoy says earthquake aid agreement can set example for new Syria peace process

As many as four million people are dependent on aid in northern Syria but the number of those in need is rising across the country

UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen speaks during a press conference at the European headquarters of the UN in Geneva, Switzerland. EPA
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The UN's special envoy for Syria reiterated calls on Wednesday for revived peace talks following the February 6 earthquake that killed at least 5,000 people in the northern part of the country and at least 45,000 in Turkey.

The aftermath of the earthquake has reignited a debate within the UN Security Council and among NGOs on the extent that aid can be delivered across Turkey’s border with Syria, where many areas are held by rebel militias.

Idlib, for example, a governorate in eastern Syria home to about 900,000 refugees, is controlled by militants formerly linked to Al Qaeda.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, UN Syria envoy Geir Pedersen called for the adoption of what he called a step-for-step approach that would allow all sides to present what they are prepared to concede to reach a possible settlement.

“There needs to be a genuine Syrian-led and owned political process facilitated by the United Nations,” Mr Pedersen said.

“There needs to be a co-ordinated international effort in support of this … [as the] status quo cannot be acceptable. We need to move forward.”

Damascus and its close ally Moscow have long insisted that aid being distributed to rebel-held areas violates Syria’s sovereignty. For years, however, Russia supported short-term access on a rolling basis through a single crossing at Bab Al Hawa.

Already bleak living conditions in the north of the country — where more than four million displaced Syrians have found refuge amid the 12-year-long civil war — have deteriorated even further following the earthquake.

Damaged roads along the Turkey-Syria border as well as disagreement over how many border crossings into the north of the country could be used left millions of people languishing without assistance in the critical hours and days following the quake.

An agreement was eventually reached to open more border crossing points for aid, but the distribution of humanitarian relief within the country remains contentious.

Mr Pedersen stressed that the warring sides and international players should approach peace efforts in the same way as they made concessions in response to the earthquakes.

“A month ago, there was no prospect of the opening of more border crossings, nor moves to ease sanctions in a concrete way,” he said, referring to measures adopted in response to the earthquakes.

“They need the same logic that was applied on the humanitarian front to now be applied on the political level.”

Updated: March 09, 2023, 9:34 AM