Last Updated: Fri Aug 31, 2012 01:04 am (KSA) 22:04 pm (GMT)

Syria buffer zone plans raise serious questions: United Nations

The U.N. warned that the calls for humanitarian corridors in Syria “raise serious questions and require careful and critical consideration.” (Reuters)
The U.N. warned that the calls for humanitarian corridors in Syria “raise serious questions and require careful and critical consideration.” (Reuters)

The United Nations said on Thursday proposals to set up secure safe zones in Syria to help end the 17-month conflict raised “serious questions” and would need to be studied carefully.

The Turkish foreign minister, who attended a meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, urged the U.N. Security Council to set up civilian safe havens inside Syria on Thursday, saying it was struggling to coped with refugees fleeing the country’s conflict.

But United Nations officials spoke out against the proposal and Britain and France warned of the major diplomatic and legal obstacles blocking any move to set up special zones, which could require military protection.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the Security Council more than 80,000 Syrians are in camps in Turkey, 10,000 are waiting at the border and his country faces “seriously difficulty” coping with 4,000 crossing over each day.

“The U.N. should initiate the establishment of IDP camps within Syria without delay. Needless to say these camps should have full protection,” he said, using the abbreviation for internally displaced persons.

Davutoglu said Turkey had spent more than $300 million and ministers from Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq also warned of the growing regional impact from a 17-month-old war, which activists say has left more than 25,000 dead.

“The scale of the tragedy is growing so out of proportions that Turkey finds it increasingly difficult to cope with the ensuing challenges all by itself,” Davutoglu said.

But U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson warned that the calls for humanitarian corridors “raise serious questions and require careful and critical consideration.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres added: “Bitter experience has shown that it is rarely possible to provide effective protection and security in such areas.”

U.N. officials worry that militarily-protected safe zones could threaten the neutrality of humanitarian workers.

The opposition Syrian National Council had urged the Security Council to impose a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to protect civilians caught in Syria's conflict, in a statement issued ahead of the U.N. council meeting on Thursday.

The SNC, accusing the government of "crimes" and "barbaric acts," said a no-fly zone and corridors were essential to protect almost 2.5 million civilians displaced by the conflict or who had fled across the borders with Syria's neighbours.

"The SNC considers that if the Security Council does not take serious measures to halt the regime's massacres and crimes, it will have abandoned its role as guarantor of world peace and protector of people against genocide," it said.

‘Destabilizing Lebanon’

The U.N. Security Council also warned against attempts to destabilize Lebanon as it renewed the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the country for another year.

The renewal of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon came amid mounting concerns about the impact of the 17-month-old war in Syria on its neighbor. More than 150,000 Syrians are said to have fled to Lebanon where factions for and against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad have fought deadly clashes.

The U.N. Security Council condemned “all attempts to threaten the security and stability of Lebanon, reaffirming its determination to ensure that no such acts of intimidation will prevent UNIFIL from implementing its mandate,” said the council resolution on the U.N. force.

The council also expressed “deep concern” at violations of the 2006 resolution that ended the war between Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

A roadside bomb wounded five French peacekeepers in southern Lebanon in December. There have been other attacks on the U.N. force.

UNIFIL has been in southern Lebanon since 1978 and was expanded after the 2006 war so peacekeepers could deploy along the border with Israel. The resolution, passed unanimously by the 15-nation council, extended the force’s mandate until August 31, 2013.

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