Kuwait strongly denounces Khan Sheikhoun massacre

BRUSSELS: (From left) Kuwait First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah, Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini observe a minute of silence for the victims in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun while attending an EU-Syria conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region at the European Commission yesterday. – AFP

BRUSSELS: Kuwait yesterday condemned in strong terms a suspected deadly chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria, and called on the international community to intervene and halt the spilling of Syrians’ blood and prosecuting “officials responsible for such crimes”. International donors yesterday pledged $6.0 billion in aid for Syria this year at a conference overshadowed by the attack blamed by the West on Damascus. The Brussels meeting, co-chaired by the European Union and United Nations, was a follow-up to a meeting last year in London which raised $12 billion in all for humanitarian aid programs.

Addressing the “Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region,” Kuwaiti First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah said: “We are holding this crucial meeting which calls for alleviating the humanitarian hardships suffered by the brotherly Syrian people. We meet here while pictures of the ugly massacre that happened yesterday in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib is still vivid in our consciousness.”
“Kuwait strongly denounces this criminal action, renews the call upon the international community to implement relevant international resolutions related to protecting the brotherly Syrian people, putting an end to the cycle of violence and bloodshed in Syria, while emphasizing the necessity to bring officials responsible for such crimes to justice,” Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled stressed.

The Syrian crisis, which entered its seventh year, is tantamount to a bloody humanitarian catastrophe that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, along with some 12 million others who have become displaced or refugees, “thus casting a shadow not only on the internal conditions in Syria and neighboring countries, but also on various states across the globe, undermining international security and stability,” Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled said.

Aware of the volume of this humanitarian disaster, Kuwait had hosted three international conferences for donors to provide humanitarian aid to Syrians – in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Moreover, Kuwait had co-chaired the fourth international conference for states pledging assistance for the Syrians in London in Feb 2016. Total Kuwaiti aid for Syrians in the four conferences reached $6.6 billion, he confirmed, urging other nations that have not paid their pledged contributions to do so. Since the end of the London conference, where Kuwait pledged $300 million at a rate of $100 million every year between 2016 and 2018 – it had honored its pledge for 2016.

Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled indicated that Kuwait had honored its financial obligations for the Syrians when the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) inked memoranda of understanding with the countries hosting the refugees – namely Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey – for funding projects in health, educational and utility sectors.
Moreover, Kuwait provided some $29 million to international agencies, which support the Syrian people in their home country and neighboring ones, he said.  It will honor its pledges for 2017 and 2018 by providing more than $600 million for infrastructural projects in countries neighboring Syria, in addition to $58 million to relief agencies operating on the ground, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled added.

Elaborating, he indicated that Kuwait Foundation for Advancement of Science had secured more than 9,000 teaching scholarships for refugees in the countries around Syria. On the other hand, he added that Kuwaiti charities have been playing a key role soothing the Syrian people’s hardships, presenting $63 million in 2016.  Moreover, during the consultative meeting on the Syrian crisis hosted by Qatar on April 2, 2017, Kuwait pledged $4.46 million. “From this stand, I renew Kuwait’s unwavering and principled stand that a comprehensive and viable solution to the Syrian crisis can only be attained through political settlement on the basis of the 2012 Geneva declaration and relevant Security Council resolutions, namely resolution 2254,” he said.

Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled called on the Security Council to act seriously for resolving this humanitarian catastrophe and pledged anew that Kuwait would spare no effort for alleviating suffering of the war-weary Syrian people. Furthermore, he hoped that the conference would signal the launch of a process that would end this bloody humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.

“Our conference is sending a powerful message, we are not letting down the people of Syria,” EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides told delegates. Announcing the new pledges to applause from those at the meeting, he added: “Thank you so much. It is an impressive figure.” Stylianides did not clarify if the funding was new, or if it included some funds previously pledged by the international community for war-torn Syria. In London last year, donors put together two $6.0 billion tranches in aid, one for 2016 and the other to cover the period to 2019.

The two-day Brussels meeting brought together some 70 countries and aid groups who also wanted to show support for UN-sponsored peace talks between the rebels and Russian-backed President Bashar Al-Assad. Yesterday’s session was dominated by news that at least 72 civilians including 20 children had been killed in a suspected chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said “the horrific events of yesterday demonstrate unfortunately that war crimes are going on in Syria”. “This conference must represent a moment of truth where the international community” finally comes together to settle the war and give the Syrian people hope, he said. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told delegates it was “impossible for us to ignore the horrific attack” and pointed the finger of blame firmly at Damascus. Johnson and other delegates repeatedly urged all parties to the conflict and their backers to condemn the attack and the use of chemical weapons.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged donors to “invest in peace”. “Ladies and gentlemen, the current situation in Lebanon is a ticking time-bomb,” he told the conference. EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini admitted it was “surreal especially today” to be discussing the “post-conflict situation”. “But if you want peace you have to start building peace and the conditions for peace”, she said, urging a “strong push to the political talks in Geneva.” Delegates made clear that aid for reconstruction would not be forthcoming until there was a genuine political transition to a new Syrian government without Assad. “Our publics will not accept that their money go in any way to those responsible for these crimes,” Johnson said, referring to the Idlib attack. – Agencies