UNITED NATIONS – Turkey's foreign minister will urge the Security Council on Thursday to set up a safe zone in Syria to protect thousands of civilians fleeing the civil war, but his appeal is almost certain to go nowhere given the deep divisions in the U.N.'s most powerful body.
With military action escalating and the death count rising, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and ministers from other countries bordering Syria are flying to New York to call for council action to address the growing humanitarian crisis inside and outside the country.
France, which holds the council presidency this month, invited ministers from the 15 council nations to Thursday's meeting as the civil war intensifies.
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud expressed hope Wednesday that despite their serious political differences on Syria, council members could work together and "have a common position on humanitarian issues ... (which) are not political by definition." But council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private, said it's highly unlikely there will even be a council statement after Thursday's meeting because of disagreements among members.
Here are some questions and answers about Thursday's meeting.
Q: What is the scope of the humanitarian crisis?
A: Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, the U.N. says over 265,000 people have fled to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Inside Syria, the government says 1.2 million people have taken shelter in public buildings though others say many more are displaced. The U.N. estimates that 2.5 million Syrians need food and other humanitarian assistance.
Q: What is a safe zone?
A: A safe zone is an area on the ground which would be protected — most likely by some kind of military force on the ground and a no-fly zone overhead. Since a safe zone would be inside Syria, if the government doesn't approve — and Syrian President Bashar Assad has called the idea "unrealistic" — it would be a violation of Syria's sovereignty amounting to military intervention because of the force required to guard civilians.
Q: Why wouldn't such a proposal be approved by the Security Council?
A: Russia and China, Syria's most important allies, have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions in the Security Council seeking to pressure Assad's government. They vehemently oppose any threat to Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity. In addition, Russia has a military base in Syria. There are also serious political differences among council members. While the U.S., its European allies and other members say Assad must go, Russia and China oppose any effort to replace him that doesn't have the support of the Syrian people.
Q. What will happen at Thursday's meeting?
A: The meeting, starting at 3 p.m. EDT, will hear briefings by U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres, Turkey's Davutoglu, Jordan's foreign minister, a Lebanese minister and an Iraqi deputy minister. Representatives of the 15 council nations will then speak.
Q: Which council nations are sending high-level representatives?
A: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Foreign Minister William Hague are coming along with the foreign ministers of Morocco, Togo and Colombia. Diplomats said the 10 other council nations — including veto-wielding permanent members Russia, China and the United States — are expected to be represented by their ambassadors or charge d'affaires.
Q: Will there be any outcome from the meeting?
A: The United Nations is appealing urgently for additional funds to help the 2.5 million Syrians who need food and other humanitarian aid, and the meeting could spur additional donations by highlighting the plight of civilians caught in the conflict.