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Source: European Union External Action

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I just chaired the opening session of the fourth Brussels Conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region, alongside United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Mark Lowcock, and United Nations Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen.

Representatives from 80 countries and international organisations as well as international and Syrian civil society [organisations] have connected through video conference. [It is] an awful conflict, a big humanitarian catastrophe that is lasting for almost 10 years. It has left half a million lives lost, almost six million Syrian refugees outside the country, more than six million internally displaced and millions of lives affected, destroyed, deprived of normality. The only normal that a whole generation of Syrian boys and girls know is war.

Behind these numbers are real people. This Conference shows that we are not forgetting the ongoing conflict. We are not forgetting the suffering of the Syrian people and we are mobilising international support behind United Nations Security Council Resolution [2254], the United Nations-led political process to settle the Syrian conflict.

We reaffirm that the only way towards a lasting peace is through United Nations-led intra Syrian negotiations in Geneva, not by military operations.

We urge all parties to fully cooperate with United Nations Special Envoy [Geir] Pedersen so that the third meeting of the Constitutional Committee gets underway without further delay.  

The regime needs to understand that it has to genuinely engage in political negotiations. Only after it changes its behaviour, stops the repression against its own people and engages in the political process, we can start talking about normalisation.

In the meantime, the humanitarian needs remain huge in Syria and around. That is why we are raising pledges to meet these needs. We have to start by saying how much we appreciate the ongoing solidarity of countries hosting Syrian refugees: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. They need and deserve the support of the European Union, and they will continue to receive it. Today, the European Union institutions are pledging a total of €2.3 billion, for this and next year.

This morning there was broad consensus on the importance of unhindered humanitarian access, and in this context around the need for the full renewal of the cross-border resolution in the United Nations. 

Let me be very clear about another issue: there is temptation to blame the dire state of the Syrian economy and the hardships of ordinary Syrian people on sanctions. I can talk about European Union sanctions and stress firmly that they do not target the civilian population. There are no sanctions on humanitarian aid or on medical supplies. Our sanctions are targeting those oppressing the Syrian people, bombing health facilities and schools, and using chemical weapons.

It is important that civil society representatives from Syria were present during the Conference and in the past few days. They impressed us with their fresh ideas and their desire for a political solution and an end to the war. They hold the key to a peaceful future for this war-torn country.

The Brussels Conference, all in all, keeps the Syrian conflict at the top of the international agenda. There has been a high level of participation and it is a clear proof that we have forgotten neither Syria nor its people nor the neighbours.

We will continue responding to the persisting enormous humanitarian needs and, at the same time, calling for a political solution. It is time to unlock the Geneva talks, it is time to forge a political solution and bring an inclusive peace to Syria.

Thank you for your attention.

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-192721

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