Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, March 7, 2019.

Source: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs





Overall, the situation in Syria can be described as stable. Tension persists in Idlib and in Syria’s north-eastern and southern regions.
The situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone is especially alarming. I would like to remind you that early this year terrorists from the Nusra-linked group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) seized control over the de-escalation zone. They have intensified the shelling of the government forces and are building up strike groups in the vicinity of Aleppo, Hama and the mountain regions of Latakia (Khmeimim). Some 370 such incidents, in which 25 people lost their lives and 70 were wounded, have been reported this year.
In this context, representatives from the Russian and Turkish defence ministries continued working to coordinate a package of measures for the implementation of the memorandum on the Idlib de-escalation zone signed in Sochi on September 17, 2018. We hope that the implementation of the arrangements reached by our militaries will help turn the tide and stabilise the situation in Idlib and around it, as well as neutralise the terrorist threat coming from it.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by the international anti-ISIS coalition, are fighting to liberate the town of Baghuz on the eastern bank of the Euphrates. The situation in northeast Syria is complicated because the local residents, mostly Sunni Arabs, are protesting against the activities of the local Kurdish administrations. This leads to bloody skirmishes between the Arabs and the Kurds. Some 200 people have died and hundreds have been wounded in a hundred terrorist attacks staged in the past two months.
While the international coalition is conducting counterterrorist operations east of the Euphrates, we have taken note and are seriously alarmed by the United States and its allies’ disregard for the civilians’ safety in violation of the fundamental principles of the international humanitarian law. Evidence of this is the dramatic plight of the inmates of the al-Hol camp for internally displaced persons in the al-Hasakah Governorate. People continue to arrive in the overcrowded al-Hol camp from the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, where the coalition is not only bombing ISIS positions but is also delivering random airstrikes at the civilian infrastructure. The inflow of people from the towns of Baghuz and Hajin has contributed to the increase of the population at the al-Hol camp from 10,000 to 47,000. The refugees who spent several days travelling across the desert are made to settle in the open and are not offered tents, bedding, warm clothes or any other basic necessities. Over 80 people, most of them children aged below 12 months, have died at the camp this year. Many of them froze to death. There is a dire lack of food, drinking water and medicine at the camp. There are also respiratory diseases and stomach infections, leishmaniosis and even tuberculosis, poliomyelitis and leprosy.
The international community seems to be looking only at the Rukban camp and is completely indifferent to the critical situation and suffering at the al-Hol camp. Ignoring the plight of people at al-Hol and at other refugee camps in Syria appears cynical at best.
As for the Rukban camp, Russia intends to do its best to help settle this problem. We believe that efforts must be taken to close down the camp and resettle its inmates in accordance with their desire, which they have clearly expressed during a UN poll.
On February 28, the Foreign Ministry of Syria expressed readiness to help Rukban inmates return back to their homes in the liberated regions and to provide safe transportation for them. Conditions have been created for the refugees in specially equipped places. In particular, such places in the provinces of Homs and Aleppo, as well as in the suburbs of Damascus have stored food, water, medicine and basic necessities for up to 35,000 people. On March 1, Syrian authorities, acting jointly with Russian military personnel, formed a bus convoy for the evacuation of the internally displaced persons. However, the planned humanitarian operation failed because the Americans refused to guarantee the safety of the convoy inside the illegal 55-mile security zone around the US base in al-Tanf.
However, we are resolved to continue dialogue on Rukban with all the interested parties, including the UN, the United States and Jordan, without any preliminary conditions and without politicising the humanitarian aspects of the problem. We believe that the right of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons to return back to their places of residence must be guaranteed and realised.
We see positive changes in the political efforts to normalise relations between Damascus and the Arab countries. On March 3 and 4, a Syrian delegation led by Speaker of the People’s Council of Syria Hammouda Sabbagh attended the 29th Conference of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union held in Amman. According to media reports, Hammouda Sabbagh has met with Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies (Council of Representatives) of Iraq ‎Mohamed al-Halbousi‎ and Chairman of Foreign and Cooperation Affairs Committee at the Algerian National Popular Council Afif Abul-Hamid. Hammouda Sabbagh also held talks with Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Martin Chungong on the sidelines of the conference. Martin Chungong expressed readiness to visit Damascus.
Moscow welcomes and supports this objective process of normalisation around Syria. We believe that the return of Damascus to the lap of the Arab family and its reinstatement as a member of the Arab League will promote stabilisation and help improve the situation in the Middle East.

We have taken note of the UN debates on the OPSCW Fact-Finding Mission’s report on chemical weapons use allegation in Syria and statements made by UK Permanent Representative to the UN Karen Pierce to the effect that the Russians’ dislike for the report is another example of Russia’s “earth is flat” science. I would like to say a few words about Ms Pierce’s poor British education. The trouble is that the idea of a flat earth was most actively upheld in Britain, where the first flat earth society was established in the 19th century and moved over to the United States in the 20th century. I suggest that you learn about history first and then we’ll talk.

Donate as little as you can to support this work and subscribe to the Facebook Page and Dailymotion Channel to get around censorship.