Opening the Door to Humanitarian Aid in Syria: Significance, Challenges, and Prospects

The Security Council unanimously adopts a resolution that allows for aid to be delivered using the most direct routes in Syria, without needing permission from the Syrian government, July 14, 2014. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

In a rare moment of unanimity on Syria, earlier this week the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2165, authorizing UN agencies and their humanitarian partners to use routes across conflict lines and four specific border crossings (Bab al-Salam, Bab al-Hawa, Al Yarubiyah and Al-Ramtha) to “ensure that humanitarian assistance, including medical and surgical supplies, reaches people in need throughout Syria through the most direct routes.”

By opening humanitarian access to the approximately 10.8 million Syrians in need of assistance, the resolution has the potential to make a tangible difference to the lives of those most affected by Syria’s conflict. This is no small feat: humanitarian assistance can sometimes be the difference between life and death. Politically, while the Council has reached points of consensus on Syria before, this is the first time it has authorized operational measures without the consent of the Syrian government.

To what extent, though, does this represent a departure from past practice, and what impact can we expect Resolution 2165 to have on the ground?

Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation Complicated by War

Palestinian protesters in May 2014 wave their national flag (R) alongside the flags of Fatah (yellow) and Hamas (green) in support of national reconciliation and the announcement of the formation of a national unity government. (SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)

After eight years, the conflict between the two Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, which effectively divided Gaza and the West Bank into two separate entities, came to an end after a surprise announcement of reconciliation in April 2014. The deal came at a time when the West Bank authorities faced a deadlock in the peace negotiations with Israel, and an almost-broke Hamas had lost most of its allies. Both parties needed to find a way to move forward.

The Islamic movement Hamas, with headquarters in Damascus under the protection of the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, fell from grace when they supported the opposition in the Syrian uprising. The collapse of the Arab Spring and the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt further complicated the situation for Hamas in Gaza. The border and smuggling tunnels to Egypt were the lifeline of the Gaza regime, providing a supply of food, energy, and raw materials, circumventing the Israeli-imposed blockade on Gaza. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s new president, closed this lifeline, putting the Hamas regime under severe pressure. With a deteriorating economy, and unable to pay public salaries, Hamas sought reconciliation with Fatah as a solution to the crisis. In this weak position, they were willing to adhere to nearly all the Fatah conditions.

How Will It End? A New Wave of Violence Between Israelis and Palestinians

Palestinians examine a rocket that did not explode in a home east of Rafah in southern Gaza Strip, July 15, 2014. (© Abed Rahim Khatib/NurPhoto/Corbis)

The recent wave of violence between Israel and Hamas, which to date has resulted in the death of more than 192 Palestinians and the injury of more than 1,100 as well as the injury of several Israelis, continues to escalate with no clear sign of when it might end, despite a ceasefire proposed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The only thing that is fairly certain is how it will end. Both parties understand the decision between violence or ceasefire is primarily a function of credibility and how much pain they are willing to endure.  When each feels it has re-established its credibility to a level it can live with, and the pain is becoming unacceptable, then a renewed truce will take hold. Few on either side have any illusions that they can deliver a devastating blow to the other that will change the uneasy truce that has prevailed–with some major interruptions–since Hamas took over control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) in 2007. Current reports indicate that Israel accepted the ceasefire on July 15, but Hamas’s military wing hasn’t, so Israel is planning renewed attacks on Gaza, while additional rockets fell on Israel after the ceasefire was to take effect.

ISIS Advance Creates Chaos and Opportunity for Regional Powers

Iraqi Shiite tribesmen brandish their weapons as they show their willingness to join Iraqi security forces, Karbala, Iraq, June 17, 2014. (Mohammed Sawaf/AFP/Getty Images)

The sudden and sweeping advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its recent announcement of an Islamic caliphate have thrown the entire Middle East region into a cloud of uncertainty. Images of ISIS forces dismantling the Sykes-Picot border posts between Syria and Iraq have cast an additional veil of doubt over prospects for long-term peace and stability. And while it remains unclear what the concrete consequences of the announcement of a caliphate will be, there are signs that ISIS’ actions are already contributing to a shift in the region’s dynamics.

How some of the key regional powers—Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey—will react to the ISIS advance is tricky to predict. What is clear is that the four countries have substantial interests at stake, and ISIS’ recent gains are already pushing them to adjust accordingly, either to secure strategic gains or to avoid losing power and influence. Below are some possible implications.

Kenya's Dilemma in Somalia: To Withdraw or Not to Withdraw?

Kenyan soldiers serving with AMISOM stand in front of the al-Shabaab flag painted on the wall of Kismayo airport, Somalia, October 2, 2012. (AU-UN IST Photo/Stuart Price)

It has been almost three years since Kenyan troops were deployed in neighboring Somalia to create a security buffer zone on the Somali side of the border. The main aim at the time was to reduce growing insecurity in Kenya, which has affected the country’s economy—especially the tourism industry. Since the deployment and subsequent integration of Kenyan troops into the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), however, the goal of reducing insecurity is yet to be realized. Instead, the insecurity—which some attribute to the very presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia—has continued to rise.

The recent attacks on June 16 in Mpeketoni, Lamu County, Kenya, where more than 60 people died, are another reminder that terrorist incidents are increasing since Kenya’s deployment in Somalia. Despite the ongoing debate between government and opposition groups about the cause and perpetrators of the Mpeketoni attacks, Kenya’s presence in Somalia remains an important factor.

Can Community Policing Combat al-Shabaab?

Young men stand guard during a demonstration by a local militia formed to provide security in Marka, Somalia, April 30, 2014. (UN Photo/Tobin Jones)

Can community policing deter terrorism in weak states where government security sectors are unable to cope with violent extremism? This is a question of mounting urgency in a number of countries beset by terrorist groups, including Iraq and Nigeria. It is of growing importance in both Somalia and Kenya, where the militant group al-Shabaab has regrouped over the past year and launched a series of devastating terrorist attacks that national law enforcement—as well as the multinational African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Somalia—have been unable to prevent.

In Somalia, the national police formed a community police program in June 2014, while in Kenya, calls are being made for Somali communities to self-police their neighborhoods against threats by al-Shabaab as an alternative to the heavy-handed Kenyan police crackdown on Somali neighborhoods.

The Agony of UNMISS

UNMISS forces lead a security sweep of the grounds at the UN house in Juba, currently serving as a camp for IDPs. (UN/Albert González Farran)

Under a cloud of civil war, South Sudan will celebrate its third year of independence on July 9, 2014. The United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) also marks its third year of operation. Designed to complement southern independence, UNMISS was tasked by the Security Council (UNSC) to consolidate peace and security in a country devastated by decades of war. UNMISS was formed under a mandate logic of peace consolidation through statebuilding; an ambitious agenda in a territory which had barely been touched by administration, and where formal institutions were the exception. Amidst widespread poverty and illiteracy, achieving independence was the first step for South Sudanese toward the realization of equal rights and the opportunity for self-governance, signaling for many an opportunity for stability and economic growth.

However, the challenges were many, and the hopes for the young state have been held hostage by the ambitions and interests of a powerful few able to draw on deeply divisive ethnic and militarized identities to pursue political and economic gains through violence. Since December 2013, South Sudan has experienced a brutal civil war claiming countless lives. Pro-government forces, including the Ugandan army and former militia groups loyal to President Salva Kiir, are facing an onslaught from anti-government forces comprised of former government soldiers and youth militias coalescing around former Vice President Riek Machar. Civilians have been targeted by both sides causing massive displacement within the country and forcing thousands of people to flee to neighbouring states. To avoid the violence, more than 100,000 people have sought refuge in the bases of UNMISS.

As Afghanistan Awaits Election Results, Euphoria Turns Into Sense of Crisis

Voters hold up their identity cards, as they wait in line at a polling station in Kabul to cast their ballots on Apil 5, 2014. (UN/Fardin Waezi)

Afghanistan’s presidential election has reached its most decisive phase, with preliminary results of the June 14 runoff election between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani expected July 2. Though this second round was held, according to initial observer reports, under generally similar conditions as the first round, the fact that there can now only be one winner has radically altered the political environment. There is a sense of crisis instead of euphoria, and dangerously deepening political divisions instead of the sense of national solidarity that followed the first round.

The first round on April 5 yielded one of the best good-news stories in the past decade. Turnout was high; Taliban violence was less than many feared; and the institutions worked. Afghans were able to feel proud of what they had accomplished. The final results of the election were in some ways ideal from a political perspective. They yielded two clear front-runners—Abdullah Abdullah with 45% of the vote, and Ashraf Ghani with 31.5%. While numerous complaints were filed, there was surprisingly little criticism of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC). This can be explained by the fact that the two front-runners did not want to undermine the legitimacy of results they were content with, and the other candidates in the field of eight were so far back that contesting the results was pointless. Because no candidate received 50%, there could be two winners in the first round, which significantly calmed the political environment.

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