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Federica Mogherini discussed developments in Syria with members of the European Parliament, during today's plenary session in Strasbourg. She highlighted that, although the war is still on, the first cessation of hostilities in five years is taking place, and humanitarian aid is being delivered to tens of thousands inside the country. The truce and the humanitarian relief can facilitate UN-led intra-Syrian peace negotiations, which are due to resume in Geneva in the coming days.
The Union's High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission explained that the EU is involved in all three tracks agreed at last month's meeting of the International Syria Support Group in Munich: the Union is taking part in the meetings of both the ceasefire and the humanitarian task forces, and has a leading role in supporting the political process.
"Glass half empty? We need to fill it drop by drop"
Mogherini highlighted that, despite several breaches in all parts of Syria, the cessation of hostilities is largely holding. Even if, she said answering to questions by the MEPs, the situation on the ground is far from perfect: “The glass is less than half full, but just a week ago it was empty.” She then added: “My job and the job of the EU is to ty to fill it drop by drop – and every drop represents a human life, whether here, in Syria, in the Aegean or in Lebanon and Jordan."
Despite the progress Mogherini warned that "a new escalation might still happen. The regional situation remains very tense, and there is a risk that we cannot ignore: the proxy-war among regional and international powers could still turn into a direct war. This is something we must always keep in mind all through our work." Hope and realism have to go hand in hand, she noted.
Humanitarian aid creating "windows of trust"
Mogherini then focused on the EU's humanitarian role, with the Union and Member States contributing two thirds of all humanitarian aid. Thanks to close cooperation between the EU and UN, aid “has reached out to more than 150,000 Syrians in Madaya, Mouadamiyya al-Sham, Kafr Batna, Foua, Kafraya, Zabadani and Deir ez-Zour. If the ceasefire holds – she confirmed - the plan is to deliver assistance to more than 1.7 million Syrians inside Syria during the first quarter of this year."
Mogherini also mentioned the recent re-opening of the ECHO humanitarian office in Damascus. “Our major role on humanitarian aid gives us a major political role too. We are helping to create windows of trust between the parties in conflict.”
Back to Geneva
Such windows of trust can support the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura's work to bring the Syrian parties to the negotiating table in Geneva. Mogherini warned that it "will not be an easy negotiation, no one expects it. It will be up to the Syrian parties to define a way forward for their country." It must be “Syrian owned and Syrian led.”
The new Syria – Mogherini said – can be "democratic and non-sectarian. It will not be governed by the same man who presided over so many years of civil war, but its governance will have to be as inclusive as possible. And there will be no space in it for Daesh and Al Nusra – which have nothing to do with the country’s history, and will have nothing to do with its future."