Saturday

31st Oct 2020

EU countries want UN peacekeepers in Syria

Libya-type military strikes in Syria are still "out of the question," but France, Italy and the UK have backed a call to send in UN peacekeepers.

The three countries spoke out on Monday (13 February) in reaction to an appeal for UN intervention by the Arab League.

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  • The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) on patrol - the 'interim' has lasted five and a half years so far (Photo: un.org)

The league at its meeting in Cairo on Sunday called for the UN Security Council (UNSC) to send in blue-hatted soldiers. Its communique also pledged to give "all forms of political and material support" to the Syrian opposition - a clause widely understood to mean arms shipments.

Details of the initiative are to emerge at the first meeting of the Friends of Syria group in Tunisia on 24 February - a contact group involving several Arab and EU countries similar to a group on Libya last year.

Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi immediately welcomed the UN peacekeeper idea in a written statement, saying "there is a full convergence of views between Italy and the Arab League."

French foreign minister Alain Juppe told AFP that France - which already has a large contingent in a UN mission in neighbouring Lebanon - might contribute to a Syria peacekeeping force if it is authorised by the UNSC.

British foreign minister William Hague, while on a visit to South Africa, said the UK would not take part directly but might give money or logistical support: "I don't see the way forward in Syria as being Western boots on the ground, in any form, including in peacekeeping form. I think they would need to come from other countries, rather than Western nations ... But of course if such a concept could be made viable we will be supporting it in all the usual ways."

Speaking for the EU as a whole, foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton said she backs "a stronger Arab presence on the ground in co-operation with the UN." But her spokesman, Michael Mann, told EUobserver that arming rebels is "certainly not something that the European Union is engaged in."

Syria itself is firmly opposed to the Arab plan.

Its UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday said the opposition is working with Al-Qaeda and called the Arab text "an incitement to terrorism."

The country's biggest ally in the UN - Russia - was less categorical, however.

Russia just last week vetoed an EU-and-Arab-League UN resolution on stopping violence in Syria. But on Monday its foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, at a meeting in Moscow with his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates - one of Syria's biggest enemies - said it is seeking "further clarifcation" of the new Arab League plan.

He noted that in order to send peacekeepers, there must first be a ceasefire, "but the tragedy is that the armed groups that are confronting the forces of the regime are not subordinate to anyone and are not under control."

The UNHCR meeting in Geneva saw UN human rights chief Navi Pillay read out a litany of horrors taking place on the other side of the Mediterranean.

She cited "systematic" use of torture, including on hospital patients, forced disappearances, children killed by sniper fire and rape of male children while in detention. "I am very distressed that the ruthless stirring of sectarian tensions might soon plunge Syria into civil war," she said.

Middle East risks becoming a 'giant failed state'

With EU countries crafting plans on how to shape events in Syria, David Hirst, a noted writer on the Middle East, has warned that the Arab uprisings are out of Western control.

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