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Syria crisis intensifies in shadow of Gaza war

The war in Gaza continues to cast a dark shadow over the wider Middle East region, in particular Syria where a series of strikes and attacks are exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation, the UN Special Envoy for the country said on Thursday.

Briefing ambassadors on the Security Council, Geir Pedersen called for a regional de-escalation, starting with an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

In addition to the regional spillover effects, he expressed deep concern over the ongoing conflict within Syria itself.

“There are in fact no signs of calm in any of Syria’s theaters – only unresolved conflicts, bubbling violence, and sharp flares of hostilities, any of which could be the kindling for a new conflagration,” he stated.

Humanitarian situation

Highlighting the bleak humanitarian situation, Mr. Pedersen stressed the need for greater access and generous donor support to alleviate the suffering of millions.

At the same time, the economic situation remains equally troubling, with food prices doubling within the past year and the Syrian Pound witnessing a 15-fold fall in its value compared to the United States Dollar since 2020.

“The unending suffering borne by Syrians carries knock-on effects for the most vulnerable,” he continued, “many interlocutors tell my office about increasing gender-based violence, as well as negative coping mechanisms such as early marriage or women forced into prostitution.”

He said there needs to be a new and comprehensive approach to address the multifaceted challenges facing Syria, adding he remained resolute in his commitment to finding a path towards peace in Syria.

Explosive remnants of war
Echoing the dire assessment, Ramesh Rajasingham, Director of Coordination, at the UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA), emphasized the risks facing aid workers.

In late March, a World Health Organization (WHO) staffer working on water and sanitation assistance in Deir ez-Zor, in eastern Syria, was killed when an airstrike hit his building.

The OCHA official also noted the impact of unexploded ordinance, landmines, and other such weapons on civilians.

“Agricultural land is particularly impacted, with significant consequences for food production and livelihoods,” he said, noting that often, children form the majority of the casualties.

Deadly diseases

Mr. Rajasingham added that with the approaching summer, the risk of drought, heatwaves, cholera and other health risks will increase, amid already limited water and sanitation services.

“This will in turn increase sexual and reproductive health and protection risks for women and adolescent girls, who tend to be exposed to higher levels of gender-based violence due to lack of privacy at and around sanitation facilities, and the need to venture further to retrieve water,” he warned.

UN rights chief briefs on Syria’s missing

Also on Thursday, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, briefed the General Assembly on the implementation of its resolution that established the Independent Institution on Missing Persons in Syria.  

The Institution has been mandated to clarify the fate and whereabouts of all those who are reported missing in Syria and, in relation to that, to support all victims, including survivors and family members.

With preparations underway for it to become fully operational, Mr. Türk emphasized the importance of geographic accessibility and gender inclusivity in ensuring its effectiveness.

“Survivors have been deeply scarred. Following their release from detention, many – especially women – have been rejected by their communities, creating a feeling of profound alienation. Others, including people now living outside of Syria, struggle to find safety and stability,” he said.

He underscored that victims and survivors will be “central to every aspect” of the Institution, adding that his Office is also reaching out to other individuals and organizations doing similar work.

The High Commissioner urged all States and all parties to the conflict in Syria, to cooperate.

“In particular, it is vital to share information and data, and to enable access to Syria and other States, as well as to facilitate processes of search, identification, assistance and support to victims,” he said.

“This is work that goes beyond politics. It could build confidence among Syrians – going to the heart of the principle of human solidarity, and to our unity in the face of suffering.”

UN News
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