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US-Russia conclusions on Syria could make a major difference, says Special Envoy

9 September 2016 – An agreement between Russia and the United States could make a major difference in ensuring cessation of hostilities and in moving forward the political process – both considered necessary to ease humanitarian suffering and to end the conflict in Syria – according to UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan De Mistura.

Mr. De Mistura was speaking at a press conference in Geneva today, shortly after coming out of a meeting of the International Syria Support Group's Humanitarian Access Task Force, co-chaired by US Secretary of State, John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov.

"We are all hoping for positive conclusions," said Mr. De Mistura, who was accompanied, at the press briefing, by the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien.

He noted that the discussions between the two major powers are addressing "complex, delicate, and difficult issues," with the UN actively supporting them, and hoping to support their conclusions as well.

"If they do succeed," Mr. De Mistura noted, "those conclusions could make a major difference on the renewal or the relaunching of the cessation of hostilities, which in turn, unavoidably, would have a major impact on humanitarian access, and in turn would be having a positive impact on the way the political process could be relaunched."

He stressed that the meetings between Russia and the United States are important, and that their outcome is expected to be heard today.

The UN Envoy expressed concern for the plight of civilians trapped in Syria's eastern Aleppo, saying it was greater than ever. He said it was a priority that the two super-powers agree on a way to halt the fighting, so that aid can get through to civilians caught up in the more than five-year conflict.

Speaking shortly after Mr. De Mistura, UN humanitarian chief, Stephen O'Brien said it was imperative that a way forward was found to meet the humanitarian needs of Syrians in what he described as "a man-made humanitarian crisis."

"We have to now see our way forward to try and meet the needs; the incredibly large-scale, deep, long-term needs of human suffering brought about by the continuing conflict circumstances," said Mr. O'Brien.

He stressed the demands of humanitarian partners, "under the humanitarian principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality," adding that the UN, and its implementing humanitarian partners "are ready to be able to deliver for the people who have life-saving, life-supporting and protection needs and continue to suffer under the current circumstances."

"So the readiness of the UN was affirmed, the detailed plans are in place, with just the usual short-term notice of getting a green light, and then the reality of having trucks getting loaded, and making sure that the truck drivers feel safe enough to be able to get into their cabs and drive along secure routes to deliver to the people in need was affirmed," said Mr. O'Brien.

Mr. O'Brien also said he hoped their readiness to deliver humanitarian assistance will not be affected by the coming solemn religious holidays of Eid. "Of course some adjustments will have to be made," he said, while noting that they "would make sure that the readiness was equally in place during the Eid holidays, and certain arrangements are made for people to be able to make their proper celebration of that period."

Mr. O'Brien said it was also clear from the Humanitarian Task Force meeting, and from all the briefings, that the humanitarian situation in Syria has reached a new critical phase.

"It was absolutely clear that the needs of the people in Syria, wherever these needs arise, however they arise, whoever it affects, on whichever side of any line, or none at all, have become even more severe," stressed Mr. O'Brien.

Those needs, he noted, "were not only over the five years, but actually even in the last three weeks, and therefore the hope and wish for a comprehensive approach to the fight in Syria that would enable us to have the total humanitarian access was the paramount and necessary conditions that we need to get access."

He cited the situation in eastern Aleppo, which he said "remains extremely severe, to the point of it being de facto besiegement."

"We need to make sure that we continue to demand – whatever the circumstances of the larger discussions – we need to make sure that we continue to press for and to demand a 48-hour weekly humanitarian pause to reach the people in need by whichever route can be secured for those very brave and courageous aid workers, both from within the UN and our implementing humanitarian partners to reach the people in need," said Mr. O'Brien.

Statistics on the situation in Syria are staggering. According to the Syria Regional Refugee Response portal, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered some 4.8 million Syrian refugees to date – with Turkey hosting the largest population of 2.7 million people; Lebanon, 1,033,513; and Jordan an additional 655,990 individuals. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reflected that the violence within the country has displaced 6.1 million people internally and left some 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

The taskforces for humanitarian aid and a cessation of hostilities, created by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) which comprises the UN, the Arab League, the European Union and 16 other countries, have been meeting separately since early this year on a way forward on the Syrian crisis.

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