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#ISSG: Statement of the International #Syria Support Group




syria-topMeeting in Vienna on 17 May as the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the Arab League, Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, the European Union, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, The Netherlands, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and the United States reaffirmed the ISSG’s determination to strengthen the Cessation of Hostilities, to ensure full and sustained humanitarian access in Syria, and to ensure progress toward a peaceful political transition.

Cessation of hostilities

Members, emphasizing the importance of a full cessation of hostilities to decreasing violence and saving lives, stressed the need to solidify the cessation in the face of serious threats, particularly during the past several weeks. The members welcomed the Joint Statement of May 9 by Ceasefire Task Force Co-Chairs, the Russian Federation and the United States, recommitting them to intensify efforts to ensure the cessation’s nationwide implementation. In this regard, they welcomed the ongoing work of the Task Force and other mechanisms to facilitate solidifying of the cessation such as the UN Operations Center and Russian-U.S. Coordination Cell in Geneva.

The ISSG members urged full compliance of the parties to the terms of the cessation, including the ceasing of offensive operations, and undertook to use their influence with the parties to the cessation to obtain this compliance. Additionally, the ISSG called upon all parties to the cessation to refrain from disproportionate responses to provocations and to demonstrate restraint. If the commitments of the parties to the cessation are not implemented in good faith, the consequences could include the return of full-scale war, which all the Members of the ISSG agreed would be in no one’s interest. Where the co-chairs believe that a party to the cessation of hostilities has engaged in a pattern of persistent non-compliance, the Task Force could refer such behavior to the ISSG Ministers or those designated by the Ministers to determine appropriate action, including the exclusion of such parties from the arrangements of the cessation and the protection it affords them. Moreover, the failure of the cessation of hostilities and/or of the granting of access to the delivery of humanitarian relief will increase international pressure ýon those failing to live up to these commitments.
Noting previous calls by the ISSG and the unanimously-adopted UNSCR 2254 of 18 December 2015, the ISSG reiterated its condemnation of the indiscriminate attacks by any party to the conflict. The ISSG expressed its serious concern about growing civilian casualties in recent weeks, making clear that the attacks on civilians, including attacks on medical facilities, by any party, is completely unacceptable. The ISSG took note of the March 2016 commitment by the Syrian government not to engage in indiscriminate use of force and urged the fulfillment of that commitment. The ISSG committed to intensifying its efforts to get the parties to stop any further indiscriminate use of force, and welcomed the Russian Federation’s commitment in the Joint Statement of May 9 to “work with the Syrian authorities to minimize aviation operations over areas predominantly inhabited by civilians or parties to the cessation, as well as the United States’ commitment to intensifying its support and assistance to regional allies to help them prevent the flow of fighters, weapons, or financial support to terrorist organizations across their borders.”


The ISSG, noting that Da’esh and the Nusra Front are designated by the UN Security Council as terrorist organizations, urged that the international community do all it can to prevent any material or financial support from reaching these groups and dissuade any party to the cessation from fighting in collaboration with them. The ISSG supports efforts by the co-chairs of the Ceasefire Task Force to develop a shared understanding of the threat posed, and delineation of the territory controlled, by Da’esh and the Nusra Front, and to consider ways to deal decisively with the threat posed by Da’esh and the Nusra Front to Syria and international security. The ISSG stressed that in taking action against these two groups, the parties should avoid any attacks on parties to the cessation and any attacks on civilians, in accordance with the commitments contained in the February 22 Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the United States.

The ISSG also pledged support for seeking to transform the cessation into a more comprehensive nationwide ceasefire in parallel with progress in negotiations for a political transition between the Syrian parties consistent with the Geneva Communique of June 2012, relevant UNSC Resolutions and ISSG decisions.

Ensuring humanitarian access

Since the ISSG’s last meeting, the UN, in co-ordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has delivered assistance to 255,000 people in besieged areas and 473,000 people in hard-to-reach areas. However, the Syrian government has yet to permit access to many locations including a number of besieged communities in Rural Damascus, in contravention of the Munich Statement. UN assessment teams, life-saving assistance, including medical supplies and personnel to ensure their proper use, have been denied to populations in need. Although some urgent medical evacuations have taken place, many cases have been delayed or denied.

The members of the ISSG reaffirmed that sieges of civilian populations in Syria are a violation of International Humanitarian Law and called for the immediate lifting of all sieges. The ISSG committed to use its influence with all parties on the ground and in coordination with the United Nations to ensure immediate, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access throughout Syria, and allow humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need, particularly in all besieged and hard-to-reach areas, as defined by the UN and called for in UNSCR 2254. As called for in UNSCR 2258, border crossings that are necessary for humanitarian relief should remain open.

The ISSG insisted on concrete steps to enable the provision of urgent humanitarian deliveries to the following locations: Arbeen, Darraya, Douma, East Harasta, Mouadhimiyeh, Zabadin and Zamalka. Regular humanitarian deliveries must continue, according to the UN’s monthly plans, to all other besieged and hard to reach locations, including Fouah, Kefraya, Kafr Batna, Ein Terma, Hammura, Jisrein, Madaya, Zabadani, Yarmouk. Starting June 1, if the UN is denied humanitarian access to any of the designated besieged areas, the ISSG calls on the World Food Program to immediately carry out a program for air bridges and air drops for all areas in need. The ISSG pledges to support such a program, and also calls on all parties to the cessation of hostilities to provide a secure environment for that program. Air deliveries should also continue to Dayr al-Zour. The ISSG stressed that such access, as in other areas, must be continuous for as long as humanitarian needs persist. Humanitarian access to these most urgent areas will be a first step toward full, sustained, and unimpeded access throughout the country.

The Members of the ISSG look forward to seeing the UN’s June plan for priority humanitarian deliveries and urge the government to approve it swiftly and in its entirety to make up for lost time. All ISSG members commit to work together immediately with the Syrian parties to ensure no delay in the granting of approval and completion of all UN requests for access consistent with UNSCR 2254, paragraph 12.

The ISSG reaffirmed that humanitarian access should not benefit any particular group over any other, but must be granted by all sides to all people in need, in full compliance with UNSCR 2254. Humanitarian aid is to be delivered based on need, for the number of beneficiaries specified by the UN, with the full package of food, medical, surgical, water, sanitation, non-food items, and any other urgently required goods as determined by the UN. The provision of mobile health services and evacuation of urgent medical cases should be facilitated by all sides based solely on urgency and need.

The ISSG asked the UN to report weekly, on behalf of the Task Force, on progress on the implementation of the plan referenced above, so that in any cases where access lags or approvals are lacking, relevant ISSG members could use their influence to press the requested party or parties to provide that approval and access. The ISSG further decided that in cases where humanitarian access is systematically denied, either fully or by the denial of delivery of certain categories of humanitarian aid or disagreements over the number of beneficiaries, the ISSG, with the agreement of the co-chairs, caninform the Security Council through the UN Special Envoy for Syria.

ISSG co-chairs and participants pledged to ensure that humanitarian aid convoys are used solely for humanitarian purposes. International humanitarian organizations, in particular the United Nations, will play the central role, as they engage the Syrian government, Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the opposition and local populations, in arranging the monitoring and sustained and uninterrupted distribution of aid.

We encourage the international community and the UN to intensify efforts to meet the needs of internally displaced persons across Syria, without losing sight of the imperative of building conditions for the safe return of the refugees, including during the transition, in accordance with all norms of international humanitarian law and taking into account the interests of the host countries.

Advancing a political transition as the norm

The ISSG reiterated the objective of meeting the target date established by UNSCR 2254 of August 1 for the parties to reach agreement on a framework for a genuine political transition, which would include a broad, inclusive, non-sectarian transitional governing body with full executive powers. In this regard, they welcomed the “Mediator’s Summary” issued after the third round of intra-Syrian talks on April 27 by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, and endorsed in particular the “Commonalities on Political Transition” noted within the report as well as the “Fundamental Issues For a Viable Transition” contained in Annex 1 of the report that may serve as the basis for the next round of the intra-Syrian negotiations. The ISSG notes that the parties have accepted a political transition will be overseen by a transitional governing body formed on the basis of mutual consent and vested with full executive powers, to ensure continuity of governmental institutions, in accordance with UNSCR 2254. On the basis of the Geneva Communique, the ISSG urged the parties to engage constructively with the UN Special Envoy in addressing the fundamental issues for a transition, as set out by the Special Envoy. ISSG members believe that the parties should return to negotiations on that basis at an appropriate time.

All ISSG members reaffirmed that political transition in Syria must be Syrian-owned and Syrian-led, and expressed their unequivocal and united commitment to facilitating the start of political transition in Syria by consistent with resolution 2254 (2015) and previous ISSG statements of October 30 and November 14, 2015, and February 11, 2016. The ISSG also requests UN Special Envoy for Syria de Mistura to facilitate agreements between the Syrian parties for the release of detainees. The ISSG called upon any party holding detainees to protect the health and safety of those in their custody.


Cars and pavements washed away as Belgian town hit by worst floods in decades




The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday (24 July) after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone, writes Jan Strupczewski, Reuters.

Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.

"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.

A woman works to recover her belongings following heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
A woman walks in an area affected by heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.

There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.

The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.

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Czech Republic

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Czechia's €7 billion recovery and resilience plan



The European Commission has today (19 July) adopted a positive assessment of Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €7 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a key role in helping Czechia emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Czech plan forms part of an unprecedented co-ordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

The Commission assessed Czechia's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Czechia's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.


Securing Czechia's green and digital transition  

The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 42% of its total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. The plan includes investments in renewable energy, the modernisation of district heating distribution networks, the replacement of coal-fired boilers and improving the energy efficiency of residential and public buildings. The plan also includes measures for nature protection and water management as well as investment in sustainable mobility.

The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 22% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. The plan provides for investments in digital infrastructure, the digitalization of public administration, including the areas of health, justice and the administration of construction permits. It promotes the digitalisation of businesses and digital projects in the cultural and creative sectors. The plan also includes measures to improve digital skills at all levels, as part of the education system and through dedicated upskilling and reskilling programmes.

Reinforcing Czechia's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Czechia's plan effectively addresses all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Czechia by the Council in the European Semester in 2019 and in 2020.

The plan provides for measures to tackle the need for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, sustainable transport and digital infrastructure. Several measures aim at addressing the need to foster digital skills, improve the quality and inclusiveness of education, and to increase the availability of childcare facilities. The plan also provides for improving the business environment, mainly through extensive e-government measures, a reform of the procedures of granting construction permits and anti-corruption measures. Challenges in the area of R&D shall be improved by investment geared at strengthening public-private cooperation and financial and non-financial support to innovative firms.

The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Czechia's economic and social situation, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

Supporting flagship investments and reform projects

The Czech plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all member states in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Czechia has proposed €1.4bn to support the energy efficiency renovation of buildings and €500 million to boost digital skills through education and investments in upskilling and reskilling programmes for the entire labour force.  

The Commission's assessment finds that no measure included in the plan does any significant harm to the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The arrangements proposed in the recovery and resilience plan in relation to control systems are adequate to prevent, detect and correct corruption, fraud and conflicts of interests relating to the use of funds. The arrangements are also expected to effectively avoid double funding under that Regulation and other Union programmes. These control systems are complemented by additional audit and control measures contained in the Commission's proposal for a Council Implementing Decision as milestones. These milestones must be fulfilled before Czechia presents its first payment request to the Commission.

President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This plan will play a crucial role in supporting a shift towards a greener and more digital future for Czechia. Measures that improve energy efficiency, digitalize public administration and deter the misuse of public funds are exactly in line with the objectives of NextGenerationEU. I also welcome the strong emphasis the plan places on strengthening the resilience of Czechia's health-care system to prepare it for future challenges. We will stand with you every step of the way to ensure that the plan is fully implemented.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Czechia's recovery and resilience plan will provide a strong boost to the country's efforts to get back its feet after the economic shock caused the pandemic. The €7bn in NextGenerationEU funds that will flow to Czechia over the next five years will support a wide-ranging programme of reforms and investments to build a more sustainable and competitive economy. They include very sizeable investments in building renovation, clean energy and sustainable mobility, as well as measures to boost digital infrastructure and skills and the digitalisation of public services. The business environment will benefit from the promotion of e-government and anti-corruption measures. The plan will also support improvements in healthcare, including reinforced cancer prevention and rehabilitation care.”

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €7bn in grants to Czechia under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €910m to Czechia in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total amount allocated to Czechia.

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “This plan will put Czechia on the path to recovery and boost its economic growth as Europe gears up for the green and digital transitions. Czechia intends to invest in renewable energy and sustainable transport, while improving the energy efficiency of buildings. It aims to roll out greater digital connectivity across the country, promote digital education and skills, and digitalize many of its public services. And it places a welcome focus on improving the business environment and justice system, backed by measures to fight corruption and promote e-government – all in a balanced response to the Czech economic and social situation. Once put properly into practice, this plan will help to put Czechia on a sound footing for the future.”

The Commission will authorize further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

More information

Questions and answers: European Commission endorses Czechia's recovery and resilience plan

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and answers

Factsheet on Czechia's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Czechia

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Czechia

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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Death toll rises to 170 in Germany and Belgium floods



The death toll in devastating flooding in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday (17 July) after burst rivers and flash floods this week collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines, write Petra Wischgoll,
David Sahl, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam.

Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany's worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.

Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down.


Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.

"Everything is completely destroyed. You don't recognise the scenery," said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people.

"We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members," he said. "Their fate is ripping our hearts apart."

Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said.

But Wassenberg mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had been stabilising since the night. "It's too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic," he said.

The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany, however, remained at risk of breaching, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from homes downstream.

Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros in reconstruction funds, could be assessed.

Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party's candidate in September's general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to travel on Sunday to Rhineland Palatinate, the state that is home to the devastated village of Schuld.

Members of the Bundeswehr forces, surrounded by partially submerged cars, wade through the flood water following heavy rainfalls in Erftstadt-Blessem, Germany, July 17, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen
Austrian rescue team members use their boats as they go through an area affected by floods, following heavy rainfalls, in Pepinster, Belgium, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis centre, which is co-ordinating the relief operation there.

It added that 103 people were "missing or unreachable". Some were likely unreachable because they could not recharge mobile phones or were in hospital without identity papers, the centre said.

Over the past several days the floods, which have mostly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off entire communities from power and communications.

RWE (RWEG.DE), Germany's largest power producer, said on Saturday its opencast mine in Inden and the Weisweiler coal-fired power plant were massively affected, adding that the plant was running at lower capacity after the situation stabilized.

In the southern Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households.

Flood water levels slowly fell in the worst hit parts of Belgium, allowing residents to sort through damaged possessions. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.

Belgian rail network operator Infrabel published plans of repairs to lines, some of which would be back in service only at the very end of August.

Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened towns and villages throughout the southern province of Limburg.

Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days, while soldiers, fire brigades and volunteers worked frantically throughout Friday night (16 July) to enforce dykes and prevent flooding.

The Dutch have so far escaped disaster on the scale of its neighbours, and as of Saturday morning no casualties had been reported.

Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in these relentless rainfalls will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.

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