1st LD Writethru: UN envoy warns of spillover of Israeli-Palestinian conflict into Syria

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) -- UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen on Monday warned that spillover of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into Syria has already begun.

Since March 2020, the Syrian conflict has been in a kind of strategic stalemate characterized by static front lines, persistent violence and sporadic escalation, with de facto authorities entrenching their control and five foreign armies present and active, he told the Security Council.

"However, I have long warned that this status quo leaves Syria at risk of drifting into deeper and prolonged fragmentation and that it involves escalation risks of the most frightening kind," he said. "My warnings have grown louder this year as we have seen growing instability and violence, exacerbated by the lack of a meaningful political process. Today, I am sounding an alarm that the situation is now at its most dangerous (point) for a long time."

Pedersen said he is sounding the alarm because, on top of the violence emanating from the Syrian conflict itself, the Syrian people now face a terrifying prospect of a potential wider escalation, given the alarming developments in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and the region.

"Spillover into Syria is not just a risk. It has already begun," he said.

Airstrikes, attributed to Israel, have hit Aleppo and Damascus airports several times in the past month. In addition, Israel says it has responded with artillery, mortar and airstrikes toward what they said were a number of launches from Syria toward Israel on the occupied Syrian Golan. The Syrian government says some of its soldiers were killed and injured in these strikes, as well as civilian workers in the strikes on the airports, said Pedersen.

Meanwhile, the United States says its forces have faced multiple attacks by groups that it claims are backed by Iran, including on Syrian territory. Last week, the United States carried out strikes on facilities in Syria that it claims are used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and groups it backs. Further exchanges were reported again on Monday, he noted.

"With the wider region at its most dangerous and tense (point) in a very long time, fuel is being added to a tinderbox that was already beginning to ignite. Even before the regional developments, Syria was seeing the worst surge in violence in more than three years," he said.

There has been a significant intensification of attacks on government-controlled areas in Syria. This includes a deadly attack on the graduation ceremony of a military academy in Homs, which remains unclaimed and which the government attributed to terrorist organizations, as well as further attacks in subsequent days. It also includes reports of rocket attacks throughout October from Security Council-listed terrorist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Hundreds were reportedly injured and many dozens killed, among them civilians, he said.

Pro-government bombardment in the northwest has escalated to levels echoing those at the height of the conflict before 2020, he added.

Following a terrorist attack on Turkish government facilities in Ankara, the northeast has seen one of the largest escalations in years, with reports of Turkish strikes, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and reports of casualties, including civilians, he said.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State terrorist group remains active, and has continued its attacks on forces, particularly in Deir-ez-Zor, Raqqa and the central desert region in Homs governorate, he said.

"Syria, the Syrian people and the wider region are in no position to endure new explosions of violent conflict in Syria, whether caused by internal or external dynamics. And we are seeing now the hard reality that, without real engagement and progress toward a political solution of the Syrian conflict, any stability is only wafer-thin, and when it breaks apart, it can unleash mass forces of violence and instability," warned Pedersen.

"There is a real and growing danger of this in Syria. The only antidote would be an immediate de-escalation to stem the tide of violence and refocus on a credible political process that charts a path forward in a framework that fully respects and restores Syria's sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity, and that enables the Syrian people to realize their legitimate aspirations, in line with Security Council Resolution 2254," he said.

Pedersen had four immediate messages to the Security Council:

First, the need for urgent de-escalation within Syria. Efforts are urgently needed to reinstate calm, toward a nationwide cease-fire, alongside a cooperative approach to countering Security Council-listed terrorist groups.

Second, the need for all actors -- Syrian and non-Syrian -- to exercise maximum restraint. It is particularly indefensible that Syria seems to be treated as a free-for-all space, in which different actors can settle their scores with one another, with impunity. Decisions that are outside of Syrian hands cannot be allowed to drag Syria into another war.

Third, the need for all actors to operate in full compliance with international humanitarian law, including protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure, and strictly upholding the principles of distinction and proportionality.

Fourth, the need for all key international actors to keep channels open and cooperate, despite the rising tensions on multiple fronts.

"This is the only way to de-escalate the current violence and protect the possibility of a political process to implement Security Council Resolution 2254. Complacency cannot be the answer. If it is, then I fear the already-fraying status quo may fully collapse, bringing untold misery to Syrian civilians and radiating further instability across a region that is already at breaking point. We must de-escalate -- and de-escalate now, for the sake of Syria," said Pedersen. Enditem

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