After five years of ruthless war in Syria, 2017 can be a year of diplomacy: UN envoy

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Pillars of smoke are seen subsequent to a Syrian airstrike on the old city of Homs. Photo: ARA News

Geneva (UN) – Looking back over the past month, which saw some of the most difficult challenges for humanitarian workers in Syria but which also witnessed evacuations of thousands of civilians from war-ravaged eastern Aleppo, United Nations envoy for Syria said on Thursday that things “can change in 2017”.

“After five ruthless war years, we can have a year of diplomacy, of conflict resolution, and of protection of civilians. It can happen, and we were heartened to hear that Russia and Turkey both said [that] they will facilitate humanitarian access to all civilians as part of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement that they function as guarantors for,” Jan Egeland, a senior UN advisor on Syria, told the media at a briefing at the UN Office at Geneva.

“And we will actively hold them accountable for their promise to help us,” he added.

The situation in Syria continues to remain particularly dire, in 2016, on average, relief workers were able to reach only about 21 per cent of the needs in the war-torn country, which while being an improvement of the one per cent figure in 2015, still meant that 79 per cent of those in need could not be provided with assistance.

On the current situation on the ground, Mr Egeland reported that “enormous dramas are unfolding as we speak.”

One such place is Damascus, the capital of Syria.

According to the senior UN humanitarian official, about 5.5 million people in the city have been cut off from water because the springs of Wadi Barada – located just outside Damascus – that accounts for 70 per cent of the water supplies, have been broken. The reason for the supply disruption is yet to be established.

The UN has sought permission to visit Wadi Barada to look into the disruption and to explore how the supplies can be restored.

It is, meanwhile, undertaking emergency efforts to ensure that schools, hospitals, bakeries and other essential services can get water.

CEASEFIRE 

On December 29, 2016, a nationwide ceasefire in Syria, brokered by Russia and Turkey which back opposing sides in the conflict, got off in the latest attempt to end nearly six years of bloodshed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed that an agreement has been reached on a Syria ceasefire, with Russia and Turkey to act as guarantors.

According to the agreement, Russia is expected to serve as guarantor of regimes compliance, while Turkey would guarantee commitment by rebel groups.

According to reports, the Syrian ceasefire was the first major international diplomatic initiative in the Middle East in decades not to involve the United States.

Moscow’s air campaign since September last year has turned the civil war in Assad’s favor, and the last rebels left Aleppo for areas that are still under rebel control in the province of Idlib. Before talks can take place, the ceasefire will have to hold.

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