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UN Sec Gen warns of full-blown military escalation in Syria

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (C, Front) addresses a Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York,. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of the danger of a full-blown military escalation in Syria. Xinhua/Li Muzi

“Increasing tensions and the inability to reach a compromise in the establishment of an accountability mechanism (for chemical weapons use in Syria) threaten to lead to a full-blown military escalation,” Guterres told the Security Council.

“In my contacts with you — especially with the permanent members of the Security Council — I have been reiterating my deep concerns about the risks of the current impasse and stressed the need to avoid the situation spiralling out of control. This is exactly the risk we face today — that things spiral out of control,” said the UN chief.

“It is our common duty to stop it.”

“In Syria, we see confrontations and proxy wars involving several national armies, a number of armed opposition groups, many national and international militia, foreign fighters from everywhere in the world, and various terrorist organizations,” he told the Security Council, which was convening at the request of Russia.

“From the beginning, we have witnessed systematic violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international law tout court — in utter disregard of the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter.”

For eight years, the people of Syria have lived through a litany of horrors: atrocity crimes, sieges, starvation, indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, the use of chemical weapons, forced displacement, sexual violence, torture, detention and enforced disappearances, he said.

He noted that Security Council resolution 2401 that demands a cease-fire across Syria to allow humanitarian aid into the country.

The continued reports of chemical weapons use in Syria are outrageous, he said. He deplored the fact that the Security Council could not reach agreement on a dedicated mechanism for attributing accountability in this regard.

“I reiterate my strong condemnation of the use of chemical weapons by any party to the conflict and under any circumstances. Their use is abhorrent and a clear violation of international law.”

The seriousness of the recent allegations of a chemical attack in Douma, Syria, requires a thorough investigation using impartial, independent and professional expertise, he said.

Guterres reaffirmed his full support for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and its Fact-Finding Mission in undertaking the required investigation into these allegations.

The OPCW mission should be granted full access, without any restrictions or impediments to perform its activities, he said.

The first team of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission is already in Syria. A second is expected to arrive on Friday or Saturday.

Guterres urged the Security Council, which failed to adopt a resolution on Tuesday on a new investigative mechanism for chemical weapons use in Syria, not to give up on its efforts to agree upon a “dedicated, impartial, objective and independent mechanism” for attributing responsibility.

He stressed that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict. “The solution must be political through the Geneva intra-Syrian talks.”

With regard to the wider Middle Eastern region, Guterres said the situation is in chaos, to such an extent it has become a threat to international peace and security.

“The region is facing a true Gordian knot: different fault lines crossing each other and creating a highly volatile situation with risks of escalation, fragmentation and division as far as the eye can see with profound regional and global ramifications.”

“The Cold War is back — with a vengeance but with a difference. The mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present,” he warned.

He highlighted the Palestinian-Israeli divide, the Sunni-Shiite divide, which is evident from the Gulf to the Mediterranean. “It is important to note that apparent religious divides are normally the result of political or geo-strategic manipulations.”

He also noted the involvement of a wide range of different factors — from opposing attitudes in relation to the role of the Muslim Brotherhood or the status of the Kurds, to the dramatic threats to communities that have been living in the region for millennia and are part of the rich diversity of Middle Eastern societies.

“This multiplicity of divides is reflected in a multiplicity of conflicts with different degrees of interconnection, several of them clearly linked to the threat of global terrorism,” he said.

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