The United Nations envoys for the Middle East are calling for an immediate ceasefire in the region. This appeal aims to redirect focus to addressing and responding to the growing threat of COVID-19. The region has been ravaged by various ongoing conflicts, which have resulted in serious damage to health care systems and infrastructure. As a result, the capacity of many countries in the Middle East caught up in conflict to respond to COVID-19 is severely compromised. In response to this, the United Nations envoys have made an appeal for parties to conflict to put down their weapons. Instead, warring parties have been urged to redirect their attention to the threat they are all collectively facing – the coronavirus pandemic.
The appeal was made on Saturday by the United Nations envoys for Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their appeal emphasized that solidarity in tackling this pandemic is imperative. However, this is impossible “if the guns of war and violence are not silenced.” They stated: “At a time like this, partisanship and narrow interests must yield to the greater cause and good of the people.” If all efforts are not made to address COVID-19 in the Middle Eastern region, it will likely come at a high human cost, regardless of which side to a conflict an individual may be on. It is therefore undeniably in the best interests of warring parties across the region to act upon this call for a ceasefire.
This latest appeal by the Middle Eastern envoys echoes the call made by United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, on 23rd March. Guterres called for an immediate worldwide ceasefire, urging warring parties around the globe to cease hostilities in the wake of the growing threat of COVID-19. In the Secretary-General’s appeal, he stated that “the fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.” He added that putting an end to hostilities was essential “[…] to help create corridors for life-saving aid. To open precious windows for diplomacy. To bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.”
On April 3rd, Antonio Guterres shared that eleven countries had responded positively to his appeal for a global ceasefire. These were Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. He told the United Nations Security Council that his appeal had been echoed and encouraged by various leaders around the globe, with visible steps to fight the virus being taken in some areas of conflict. Whilst this is positive progress, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of remaining cautious, as any of these developments could be easily reversed.
Additionally, the appeal of the envoys has highlighted that more action in addressing the pandemic is still required, particularly in the Middle East. People in the region have suffered as a result of protracted conflict for many years, which will only be amplified as the threat of COVID-19 grows. Warring parties have therefore been urged to engage without preconditions in negotiations surrounding ceasefires, alongside working towards long-term solutions to prolonged conflicts.
As cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in war-torn states such as Yemen and Syria, now is the time for warring parties to act upon this ceasefire. As stated by the Secretary-General, steps must be taken to “end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.” In order for this to happen, solidarity and compromise amongst groups engaged in conflict around the globe is imperative.
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