Assad’s war gains hamper hopes for peace, says United Nations

EU and UN call for a swift return to political talks at conference seeking $6 billion to rebuild Syria

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to the media following a meeting as part of an international conference on the future of Syria and the region in Brussels on April 24, 2018. 
The EU and UN on April 24 began a two-day push to drum up fresh aid pledges for war-torn Syria and reinvigorate the faltering Geneva peace process as the conflict enters its eighth year. Donor countries, aid organisations and UN agencies are gathering in Brussels for the seventh annual conference on Syria's future as international inspectors probe a suspected gas attack in the town of Douma, highlighting the brutal nature of the war. / AFP PHOTO / BELGA / THIERRY ROGE / Belgium OUT

Battlefield gains made by the regime forces of Bashar Al Assad have worsened prospects for a political settlement, the United Nation’s Syria envoy said on Tuesday in a bleak assessment of the state of the country after seven years of war.

Staffan de Mistura called on major foreign powers involved in the conflict to play their part in silencing the guns to allow humanitarian efforts within the country and prepare the ground for a political deal to end the war that has killed 500,000 people.

"In the last few days, weeks … we have seen it with our eyes that military gains, territorial gains and military escalation doesn't bring a political solution," he told reporters at a two-day donor conference in Brussels run by the European Union and the UN.

“It has not brought any change. On the contrary … we are going through a very difficult moment.”

The conference brings together about 85 countries to raise $6 billion for aid and reconstruction of the country’s shattered cities. More than 13 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance because of the war.

The meeting follows US-led air strikes against suspected chemical weapons' sites on April 14. They followed a deal struck earlier in the month that allowed rebel fighters to leave eastern Ghouta as regime forces retook the area after months of bitter fighting.

Mr de Mistura said that the largely rebel-held north-west province of Idlib was the “big new challenge” for the international community to ensure the 2.5 million population did not suffer the same fate as civilians in Aleppo or eastern Ghouta.

The envoy said a UN Security Council retreat in a secluded farmhouse in Sweden at the weekend, that had been called to called to overcome paralysis on Syria, had lowered the temperature of the debate about the war but had failed to find a political solution.

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The EU’s top diplomat Frederica Mogherini accused Russia, Iran, and Turkey of failing to live up to their promises to calm tensions in Syria. The three countries, key military powers in the war, last year became guarantors of de-escalation zones that briefly raised hopes for a reduction in violence. “That seems very long ago and that seems gone,” she said.

“Syria is not a chess board, it’s not a great political game. Syria belongs to the Syria people and the Syrian people have to decide themselves about the future of their country.”

The British government called on Russia and Iran to use their influence over the Assad regime to bring it to the negotiating table.

Penny Mordaunt, the international development minister, said Russia’s “flagrant disregard” for international laws had given free rein to the regime to carry out chemical attacks on his own people.

The longer the delay in reaching a political settlement, “the more people are going to die and the more misery and destruction will be inflicted on Syria”, she is expected to tell the conference on Wednesday.

Christos Stylianides, the European Commissioner for humanitarian aid, told the conference that violations of international law have “been the rule rather than the exception”.

Hospitals, schools, markets, water systems and power stations had all become deliberate targets, he said.

The UN children’s agency said the seven-year war had caused 2.8 million people to miss out on their education that would cost $1.4 billion a year to rectify. Five million people have fled the country because of the fighting.

The meeting is the third annual gathering  of aid groups and governments to help Syrians affected by the war. The first day of the conference is focused on the work of humanitarian workers. The ministerial session on Wednesday will aim to identify prospects for a political settlement.

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