by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, April 2 -- The spread of the novel coronavirus has fueled concerns in the United Nations over continuing conflicts in the Middle East.
"We are deeply concerned about the ongoing hostilities in and around Tripoli despite an agreed truce to allow national authorities and humanitarian organizations to focus on the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19," Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said on Thursday.
"Armed clashes and shelling have been reported in and around Tripoli and Abu Qurayn, reportedly damaging homes and causing civilian casualties," Dujarric said. "The fighting rages as the UN is working to support the Libyan authorities with its COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts."
In Yemen, UN special envoy Martin Griffiths and his team are trying to draw agreements on a nationwide ceasefire, as well as humanitarian and economic measures to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people and the urgent resumption of the political process aimed at comprehensively ending the war, the spokesman said.
The envoy's office seeks the input of broader Yemeni groups on what could be done to support Yemen in averting and mitigating a COVID-19 outbreak.
In an International Syria Support Group Humanitarian Task Force video-conference held on Thursday, task force members were told that the virus could have a devastating impact given the protracted crisis and the extensive destruction and damage to the health system, according to Dujarric, who said Syria's public health system is fragile and will require considerable support to reinforce its capacity.
UN special envoy Geir Pederson joined the meeting and appealed for a complete immediate nationwide ceasefire to enable an all-out effort to counter COVID-19, the spokesman added.
Dujarric also said that the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is helping the country's fight against COVID-19 in the south. Troop-contributing countries have been aiding communities with medical equipment and other supplies.
The Italy-led UNIFIL Sector West Command has answered requests from local hospitals to be able to receive suspected COVID-19 cases, he said. The mission has donated pre-fabricated containers and medical equipment to several hospitals.