Posts Tagged ‘Staffan de Mistura’

Syrian, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Forces Push Deeper Into Border Area With Israel

December 25, 2017

Pro-Assad forces, including Hezbollah, are now turning toward the last rebel-held enclave south west of Damascus in a new expansion of Tehran’s influence

Reuters and Haaretz Dec 25, 2017 10:38 AM
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/1.831074

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Hezbollah fighters in Syria, August 23, 2017.

Hezbollah fighters in Syria, August 23, 2017. OMAR SANADIKI/REUTERS
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Syrian army forces backed by Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, pushed deeper into the last rebel-held enclave near a strategic border area with Israel and Lebanon in a new expansion of Tehran’s influence in the war-torn country.

The army and the Shi’ite forces advanced east and south of the Sunni-rebel held bastion of Beit Jin backed by some of the heaviest aerial bombing and heavy artillery shelling since a major assault began over two months ago to seize the area, rebels said.

 

Haaretz reported last week the Syrian army and supporting militias have been gearing up to expand the area it controls in southern Syria near Israel’s border and are likely to start their attack on rebel forces by the Syrian Mount Hermon. They may later attempt to advance southward, along Israel’s border in the Golan Heights.

The Syrian army said it had encircled the village of Mughr al Meer at the foothills of Mount Hermon as troops moved towards Beit Jin amid fierce clashes.

Image result for syria map, Beit Jin, Mughr al Meer

The enclave is the last rebel bastion left in south west of Damascus that had since last year fallen under government control after months of heavy bombing on civilian areas and years of siege tactics that forced rebels to surrender.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura arrives to give a press conference closing a round of Intra Syria peace talks at the European headquarters of the United Nations offices in Geneva on December 14, 2017.
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gives a press conference closing a round of Intra Syria peace talks at the European headquarters of the United Nations offices in Geneva, on December 14, AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI

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“The Iranian backed militias are trying to consolidate their sphere of influence all the way from southwest of Damascus to the Israeli border,” said Suhaib al Ruhail, an official from the Liwa al Furqan rebel group that operates in the area.

Worried by Iran’s expanding influence in Syria after the defeat of Islamic State, Israel has in the last few weeks stepped up its strikes against suspected Iranian targets inside Syria.

Early this month an Israeli strike on a base near Kiswah, south of Damascus was widely believed to be an Iranian military compound, according to a Western intelligence source.

Israel has been lobbying both big powers to deny Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Sunni-led rebels.

The southwest of Syria is part of a de-escalation zone in southern Syria agreed last July between Russia and Washington, the first such understanding between the two powers.

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read more: https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/1.831074

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U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura says Syria’s government is blocking peace talks

From December 15, 2017
Deutsche Presse-Agentur

GENEVA — The latest round of U.N.-brokered Syrian peace talks has failed to produce any progress, with U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura blaming Syrian government delegates for rejecting any dialogue with the opposition.

“I did not see the government really looking to find a way to have a dialogue and negotiate during this round,” he told reporters after the eighth round of talks ended in Geneva on Thursday.

While the opposition presented no preconditions, the government demanded that the other side withdraw a previous statement that had called for the resignation of President Bashar Assad, de Mistura said.

Assad’s envoys did not even want to interact with the opposition indirectly through U.N. intermediaries, the de Mistura added.

De Mistura and his team therefore only held separate meetings with both sides.

While the opposition was ready to talk about a new Syrian constitution and U.N.-led elections, government envoys only wanted to talk about terrorism in their country, and not about political change, according to de Mistura.

“We did not have real negotiations,” he said. “A golden opportunity was missed.”

De Mistura plans a new round of talks in January, but he said he would have to come up with new ideas to move the process forward next time, such as presenting his own outlines for a constitution and elections.

Nasr al-Hariri, the head of the opposition negotiating team, said that the Geneva process was “in great danger” and that the U.N. and the international community were responsible for protecting it.

“The Syrian regime is challenging and undermining the world community by obstructing” ways to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis, al-Hariri told reporters in Geneva.

He stressed that peace negotiations needed two sides and that the Syrian regime delegation had refused to carry out any direct talks, al-Hariri said.

Yehia Aridi, an opposition spokesman, also accused the Syrian government of stalling.

“They simply follow the rule: either we govern or we destroy Syria,” Aridi told dpa from Geneva.

The Syrian government’s chief negotiator, Bashar al-Jaafari, said his side would not engage in any dialogue with the opposition unless they cancelled a recent statement issued in Saudi Arabia, which once again insisted on al-Assad’s departure.

He also accused Saudi Arabia and Western powers that back the opposition of “sabotaging” this round of talks because “they do not want the Geneva process to succeed as a political solution.”

De Mistura had said on Wednesday that Russia should prod Damascus into working to reach a peace accord.

In recent months, government forces, supported by allied Russians, have made major territorial gains against the Western-backed opposition, as well as militant groups including Islamic State.

Earlier on Thursday, government forces foiled a suicide attack targeting an intelligence building near Damascus, security sources and state media reported.

A security patrol vehicle chased a suspicious-looking car on the southern outskirts of the capital city, which the sources said had been targeting the building.

The vehicle exploded killing the would-be bomber without causing any further casualties, they said.

Similar blasts have hit Damascus in the past months. In October, a series of simultaneous suicide attacks killed at least five people in central Damascus.

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Hezbollah Vows To Confront Israel

Al Jazeera

The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah has said his group and its allies in the region would renew their focus on the Palestinian cause after what he called their victories elsewhere in the region.

Hassan Nasrallah called on Hezbollah’s allies on Monday to put in place a united strategy “in the field” to confront Israel.

His speech came as thousands of Hezbollah supporters demonstrated in Beirut, chanting “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” in protest against President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Lebanese Shia political bloc with a powerful military wing, has been fighting in Syria alongside regional allies to defeat both anti-government rebels and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

Protesters marched through Hezbollah’s south Beirut bastion, carrying banners reading “Jerusalem, Eternal Capital of Palestine” and “Jerusalem is Ours”.

Nasrallah said he hoped the “foolish [US] decision” would mark the “beginning of the end” of Israel.

Days of protest

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut on Monday, said Nasrallah asked Hezbollah supporters to continue protesting against the US move.

“Nasrallah described Trump’s decision as yet another aggression against the Palestinian cause whose aim was to strip Palestinians of their rights,” she said.

Nasrallah had called for the demonstration last week after Trump made his announcement in a televised speech on December 6.

The move has been heavily denounced and has prompted days of protest across the Middle East and elsewhere.

 

Monday’s rally came a day after a violent protest outside the US embassy in Beirut, where security forces fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters who pelted them with stones.

The demonstrators were barely hundreds of metres from the embassy.

Lebanon is home to over 450,000 Palestinian refugees, who make up nearly 10 percent of the country’s population.

Many are the descendants of those who fled after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Our correspondent said Trump’s decision has been a gift to Hezbollah, which had been drawing flak from its opponents for its intervention in Syria’s conflict.

The battle-hardened Hezbollah fighters played a key role in turning the tide of Syria’s war in favour of President Bashar al-Assad, a key Iran ally.

“From the beginning, since Hezbollah was born three decades ago, Palestine has been central to their cause,” Al Jazeera’s Khodr said.

“Up until a few years ago, Hezbollah was portrayed as a resistance movement.

“But it lost a lot of popularity and legitimacy when it intervened in Syria, with its opponents accusing it of being a sectarian militia that is serving Iran’s interests.

 

“Now Hezbollah is saying they have won against ISIL, that the war in Syria is winding down and they have to concentrate on their main cause, the Palestinian issue.”

Hezbollah is believed to have a massive arsenal of rockets capable of hitting much of Israel’s territory.

Israel fought a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 that killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 120 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, ending a 22-year occupation, but the two countries remain technically at war and there have been occasional skirmishes on the border.

'Jerusalem is the make it or break it'

‘Jerusalem is the make it or break it’

 http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/hezbollah-hassan-nasrallah-vows-focus-palestine-171211202950858.html

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

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Ankara Ensures Impartiality in Syrian Army Operation in Idlib — Towns to be “purged” of Kurdish fighters

December 23, 2017

Fars News

Ankara Ensures Impartiality in Syrian Army Operation in Idlib

TEHRAN (FNA)- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has assured his Russian Counterpart Vladimir Putin that his army will remain impartial during the Syrian Army’s massive assault to liberate Idlib, a diplomatic source at the French embassy in Oman said on Saturday.

The Arabic-language al-Hadath news quoted the source as disclosing that Erdogan, in his recent meeting with Putin in Ankara, has assured the Russian president that the Turkish forces will remain impartial in the Syrian Army’s liberation operation in Idlib provided that the Kurdish bases in the towns of Afrin, Tal Abyadh, Ra’as  al-Ein and Qamishli in Northern Syria will be purged of Kurdish fighters.

The diplomat told al-Hadath that Erdogan has received worrying reports from the Turkish intelligence service about the Kurds’ dangerous movements in Turkey coordinated by the Kurds in Syria and backed up by the US intelligence.

Reports said earlier today that Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations and Head of the government delegation to intra-Syrian peace talks Bashar al-Jaafari said that the US and Turkish military forces should leave his conflict-plagued country immediately.

Al-Jaafari made the demand during the latest round of Syrian peace negotiations in the Kazakh capital city of Astana

On October 13, Turkish troops travelling in a convoy of 12 armored vehicles entered Northern Syria in a new military operation.

Turkish media sources said the convoy included about 80 soldiers.

Local sources said the troops were headed towards the Western part of Aleppo province.

The development came after Turkish officials said they were sending troops into Syria to enforce a de-escalation zone in Idlib, which is largely controlled by Al-Nusra Front (Tahrir al-Sham Hay’at or the Levant Liberation Board) terrorist alliance.

The de-escalation zone forms part of an agreement reached between Turkey, Iran and Russia.

Syrian congress of national dialogue will be held in Sochi in late Jan.

Meanwhile, a joint statement released after two days of talks in Kazakhstan said delegations from Russia, Iran and Turkey, Syrian government representatives as well as a 20-member opposition team had agreed to hold a “peace congress” in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi as part of efforts to find a political solution to the six-year-old Syrian conflict.

The statement said the congress will be held between January 29 and 30 next year, and “all segments of the Syrian society” will participate in it.

It added “To this end three guarantors (Russia, Turkey and Iran) will hold a special preparation meeting in Sochi before the congress.”

Last week, the eighth round of UN-backed Syria peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland, ended without progress.

UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan De Mistura, described the talks as a missed opportunity.

Previous rounds of Geneva negotiations have failed to achieve results, mainly due to the opposition’s insistence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should cede power.

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13961002001222

Syrian opposition urges Moscow to push regime over peace settlement — Assad’s future remains an issue

December 22, 2017

Syrians walk along a destroyed street in Raqqa on Wednesday, two months after Syrian Democratic Forces captured the city from Daesh. (AFP)

ASTANA: Syria’s opposition on Thursday said it was more important “than ever before” that Russia push Bashar Assad’s regime toward a political settlement, as new peace talks kicked off in Kazakhstan.

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A new round of Syria peace talks backed by powerbrokers Russia, Iran and Turkey began earlier Thursday in the Kazakh capital Astana as major powers seek to revive a hobbled peace process.
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Delegations from Russia, Iran and Turkey along with Syrian regime representatives and a 20-strong opposition delegation had all arrived in the Kazakh capital Astana for two days of talks, a Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman said.
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The UN’s envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is expected to attend the second day of talks on Friday, the ministry added.
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“We are asking the Russian side, now more than ever before, to put pressure on the regime to push it toward a political settlement,” the Syrian opposition delegation said in a statement after meeting with a UN team.
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“The detainees are the priority for the military delegation. We will focus on this cause with the Russian delegation,” the statement added.
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The negotiators will also focus on the reinforcement of the cease-fire, especially in the de-escalation zones, as well as the lifting of sieges on all towns and villages and the delivery of assistance to those in need, the statement said.
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The regime’s news agency reported that Russia’s delegation had “met separately with the Iranian and Turkish delegations.”
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“After the bilateral meetings, there will be a trilateral meeting between the three sponsor states,” it said.
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The negotiations should conclude with a plenary session involving all the parties on Friday.
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The eighth round of talks comes after Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian forces during a surprise visit to the war-torn country last week.
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Moscow has spearheaded the talks in Astana since the start of the year as it tries to turn its game-changing military intervention in Syria into a negotiated settlement.
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The Kremlin also hopes to convene a political congress in the Black Sea resort of Sochi which would bring together regime officials and the opposition to reinvigorate a hobbled peace process.
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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday there were currently “no dates” for the Sochi congress as of yet.
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“The most important thing here is preparedness. No one is trying to artificially accelerate this process,” Peskov told reporters.
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Since the start of Syria’s war in 2011, numerous diplomatic attempts to halt the conflict have stumbled, mainly over Assad’s future.
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A fragile cease-fire brokered at the end of last year by Moscow and rebel-aligned Ankara has been bolstered somewhat by the negotiations in Astana, which began in January.
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Recent rounds of talks in Kazakhstan have focussed on implementing a Russia-led plan for four “de-escalation zones” to stem fighting between the regime and the opposition.
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A year on from the devastating and strategically crucial regime victory in Aleppo, Damascus has consolidated control over much of the country, wresting territory from extremist factions not party to the truce, particularly Daesh.
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Diplomatic contacts between the major parties in the conflict have intensified in recent months, but there is no sign that Damascus and its armed opponents are any closer to a political settlement.
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The Astana talks have run in parallel to negotiations taking place in Geneva with the backing of the UN.
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Both the Astana and Geneva negotiations have failed to bear much fruit, and the planned Sochi congress appears to be Moscow’s attempt to force the pace in a bid for a political settlement.
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But representatives of the opposition have expressed fears the congress could prove a distraction from the UN negotiations.
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The war has left more than 340,000 people dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

New Syria peace talks begin in the Kazakh capital — With Syria in ruins and more than 340,000 people dead, Bashar Assad wants to keep his job — Russia, Iran and Turkey seem in charge

December 21, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Since the start of Syria’s war in 2011, numerous diplomatic attempts to halt the conflict have stumbled

ASTANA (KAZAKHSTAN) (AFP) – 

A new round of Syria peace talks backed by powerbrokers Russia, Iran and Turkey kicked off in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana Thursday, the Central Asian country’s foreign ministry said.

Delegations from Russia, Iran and Turkey along with Syrian regime representatives and a 20-strong opposition delegation had all arrived in Astana for two days of talks, a ministry spokesman said.

The UN’s envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is expected to attend the second day of talks on Friday, the ministry said.

© SANA/AFP | A SANA picture shows President Bashar al-Assad speaking to journalists after receiving the Russian delegation on December 18, 2017

On Thursday, he will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow.

The eighth round of talks come after Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian forces during a surprise visit to the war-torn country last week.

Moscow has spearheaded the talks in Astana since the start of the year as it tries to turn its game-changing military intervention into a negotiated settlement.

The Kremlin also hopes to convene a political congress in the Black Sea resort of Sochi which would bring together regime officials and the opposition to reinvigorate a hobbled peace process.

The Astana talks will also focus on shoring up the buffer zones, as well as issues including humanitarian aid and freeing prisoners, the foreign ministry has said.

Image may contain: 5 people, people sitting

Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin and his Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad meet with Russian military officers in a hall in the Russian air base in Hmeimim in Syrian province of Latakia on December 11, 2017 AFP PHOTO / POOL / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV
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– De-escalation zones –

A fragile ceasefire brokered at the end of last year by Moscow and rebel-aligned Ankara has been bolstered somewhat by the negotiations in Astana, which began in January and have continued in parallel to fruitless UN-led talks in Geneva.

Recent rounds of talks in Kazakhstan have focussed on implementing a Russia-led plan for four “de-escalation zones” to stem fighting between government and rebels.

A year on from the devastating and strategically crucial regime victory in Aleppo, Damascus has consolidated control over much of the country, wresting territory from extremist factions not party to the truce, particularly the Islamic State group.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shake hands prior to the Syria meeting in Sochi, Russia on 22 November 2017 [Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency]

Diplomatic contacts between the major parties in the conflict have intensified in recent months, but there is no sign that Damascus and its armed opponents are any closer to a political settlement.

Since the start of Syria’s war in 2011, numerous diplomatic attempts to halt the conflict have stumbled, mainly over the future of President Bashar al-Assad.

The war has left more than 340,000 people dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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 (His main allies are Bashar Assad, Iran and Turkey…)
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UN Offers New Ideas on Syria Peace Talks — But the Assad Regime, Russia, Iran and Turkey have their own ideas

December 19, 2017

AFP

© POOL/AFP | UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (R) and his deputy Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy attend a December 13 round of negotiations with the Syria government

UNITED NATIONS (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – The UN’s mediator on Syria asked the Security Council on Tuesday to help break the deadlock in peace talks by providing some ideas on drafting a new constitution and elections, key elements of a future settlement.

Staffan de Mistura told the council that a “golden opportunity” to make progress toward a peace deal had been missed during the latest round of talks that ended in Geneva last week.

“I believe the time has come for the UN to provide some specific elaborations on the constitutional and electoral baskets,” the envoy said.

“Since we have been hearing and talking about constitutional process and election and we were not able in the intra-Syrian talks to actually engage both sides on it, well let me get you on it,” he told the council.

The envoy was to meet UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres later Tuesday to discuss the failure of the talks in Geneva as Russia, Iran and Turkey gear up for a fresh round of meetings in the Kazakh city of Astana this week.

De Mistura said the proposals on the constitution and elections would “stimulate a wider consultation” on the way forward.

Peace talks have repeatedly stumbled over the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, with negotiators from Damascus refusing to meet the opposition directly until it drops demands that he leave office.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped up his Syria diplomacy in recent months, setting up four “de-escalation” zones inside Syria and proposing to hold a peace conference.

UN diplomats are increasingly concerned that Russia is seeking to set up an alternate track to the Geneva talks to reach a settlement that would suit its ally Assad.

Assad’s forces have regained the upper hand in the war, backed by Russia’s military intervention, retaking large swatches of rebel-held territory.

More than 340,000 people have died in Syria’s nearly seven-year war and over half of the population has been driven from their homes.

As Russia Redraws the Map in Syria, Putin and Iran Are Left With One Major Disagreement

December 17, 2017

Image may contain: 5 people, people sitting

Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin and his Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad meet with Russian military officers in a hall in the Russian air base in Hmeimim in Syrian province of Latakia on December 11, 2017 AFP PHOTO / POOL / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV
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Russian diplomacy in Syria is not seen as likely to yield a peace deal, while Putin and Iranian leaders differ on how best to deal with Syria’s armed Kurds

By Haaretz and Reuters Dec 17, 2017
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With the map of Syria’s conflict decisively redrawn in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor, his Russian allies, Iran included, want to convert military gains into a settlement that stabilises the shattered nation and secures their interests in the region – a prospect the Israeli government strongly objects to.

A year after the opposition’s defeat in Aleppo, government forces backed by Russia and Iran have recovered large swathes of territory as Islamic State’s “caliphate” collapses.

As UN-backed talks in Geneva fail to make any progress, Russia is preparing to launch its own political process in 2018. President Vladimir Putin declared mission accomplished for the military on a visit to Russia’s Syrian air base this week, and said conditions were ripe for a political solution.

Though Washington still insists Assad must go, a senior Syrian opposition figure told Reuters the United States and other governments that have backed the rebellion had finally “surrendered to the Russian vision” on ending the war.

The view in Damascus is that this will preserve Assad as president. A Syrian official in Damascus said “it is clear a track is underway, and the Russians are overseeing it”.

© AFP / by Nina LARSON | UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gives a press conference after the eighth round of UN-brokered talks broke down in Geneva

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gives a press conference closing a round of Intra Syria peace talks at the European headquarters of the United Nations offices in Geneva, on December 14, AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI

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“There is a shift in the path of the crisis in Syria, a shift for the better,” the official said.

But analysts struggle to see how Russian diplomacy can bring lasting peace to Syria, encourage millions of refugees to return, or secure Western reconstruction aid.

There is no sign that Assad is ready to compromise with his opponents. The war has also allowed his other big ally, Iran and its Revolutionary Guard, to expand its regional influence, which Tehran will not want to see diluted by any settlement in Syria.

Having worked closely to secure Assad, Iran and Russia may now differ in ways that could complicate Russian policy.

Assad and his allies now command the single largest chunk of Syria, followed by U.S.-backed Kurdish militias who control much of northern and eastern Syria and are more concerned with shoring up their regional autonomy than fighting Damascus.

Anti-Assad rebels still cling to patches of territory: a corner of the northwest at the Turkish border, a corner of the southwest at the Israeli frontier, and the Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. Eastern Ghouta and the northwest are now in the firing line.

“The Revolutionary Guards clearly feel they have won this war and the hardliners in Iran are not too keen on anything but accommodation with Assad, so on that basis it is a little hard to see that there can be any real progress,” said Rolf Holmboe, a former Danish ambassador to Syria.

“Assad cannot live with a political solution that involves any real power sharing,” said Holmboe. “The solution he could potentially live with is to freeze the situation you have on the ground right now.”

The world is “tired of the crisis”

The war has been going Assad’s way since 2015, when Russia sent its air force to help him.

The scales tipped even more his way this year: Russia struck deals with Turkey, the United States and Jordan that contained in the war in the west, indirectly helping Assad’s advances in the east, and Washington pulled military aid from the rebels.

Though Assad seems unbeatable, Western governments still hope to effect change by linking reconstruction aid to a credible political process leading to “a genuine transition”.

While paying lip service to the principle that any peace deal should be concluded under U.N. auspices, Russia aims to convene its own peace congress in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The aim is to draw up a new constitution followed by elections.

The senior Syrian opposition figure said the United States and other states that had backed their cause – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Turkey – had all given way to Russia. Sochi, not Geneva, would be the focal point for talks.

“This is the way it has been understood from talking to the Americans, the French, the Saudis – all the states,” the opposition figure said. “It is clear that this is the plan, and there is no state that will oppose this … because the entire world is tired of this crisis.”

Proposals include forming a new government to hold elections that would include Syrian refugees.

But “the time frame: six months, two years, three years, all depends on the extent of understanding between the Russians and Americans”, the opposition figure said. “If the Russians and Americans differ greatly, the whole table could be overturned.”

Iran, Russia differ on Syria’s Kurds

Russia is serious about accomplishing something with the political process, but on its own terms and turf, said senior International Crisis Group analyst Noah Bonsey.

“I am not sure they have a good sense of how to accomplish that and to the extent that they seek to accomplish things politically, they may run into the divergence of interests between themselves and their allies,” he said.

The Syrian Kurdish question is one area where Russia and Iran have signalled different goals.

While a top Iranian official recently said the government would take areas held by the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led forces, Russia has struck deals with the Kurds and their U.S. sponsors.

“From the start of the crisis, there’s been a difference between the Russians and the Iranians and the regime,” said Fawza Youssef, a top Kurdish politician. The Russians believe the Kurds “have a cause that should be taken into account”.

Damascus, while issuing its own warnings to the Kurds, may continue to leave them to their own devices as it presses campaigns against the last rebel-held pockets of western Syria.

The situation in the southwest is shaped by different factors, namely Israel’s determination to keep Iran-backed forces away from its frontier, which could prompt an Israeli military response.

“There are still major questions and a lot of potential for escalating violence in various parts of Syria,” said Bonsey.

Haaretz
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/1.829431

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 (His main allies are Bashar Assad, Iran and Turkey…)
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‘Golden opportunity missed’ at Syria peace talks: UN mediator

December 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Nina LARSON | UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gives a press conference after the eighth round of UN-brokered talks broke down in Geneva

GENEVA (AFP) – The latest round of Syria peace talks in Geneva was a “golden opportunity missed”, the country’s UN mediator lamented Thursday, accusing the Syrian government of not really seeking dialogue.UN envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters that “negotiations did not take place”, blaming in particular the government delegation’s apparent lack of interest in discussing anything besides the fight against “terrorism”.

His statement came at the end of the eighth round of indirect talks in Geneva between delegations representing Damascus and the opposition in Syria’s brutal, nearly seven-year war.

Seven previous rounds of talks mediated by De Mistura have also gone nowhere — and rival sides have not yet met face-to-face.

The UN mediator, who describes himself as a “chronic optimist” and highlights incremental progress where others see stalemate, had voiced hope that the eighth round that opened on November 28, would mark the first “real negotiation”.

– ‘Disappointed’ –

But as the round fizzled out Thursday, he acknowledged he was “disappointed.”

“In spite of lots of efforts of my whole team, we did not have real negotiations. We did however have bilateral discussions,” he told reporters.

While the opposition, which was united in one delegation for the first time, had seriously engaged in all subjects on the table, he said “the government engaged sadly only on one subject… terrorism.”

Asked about the next steps, De Mistura said he would discuss the matter with UN chief Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council, but that he hoped to organise a new round of talks next month.

A parallel process organised by Moscow and including fellow government ally Iran and rebel backer Turkey, is set to resume next week in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The Kremlin also hopes to convene a political congress in the Black Sea resort of Sochi which would bring together regime officials and the opposition to reinvigorate a hobbled peace process.

The opposition and Western diplomats are concerned that the Sochi meeting might be part of an effort by Moscow to circumvent the UN talks and impose a solution favourable to Assad.

De Mistura said he did not yet have enough information about the Sochi event to voice an opinion.

But he warned that “if the government is not willing to meet anyone who seems to have any type of different opinion and is not willing to discuss constitution and elections… I would be very concerned if I were those organising Sochi or any other initiatives.”

Earlier Thursday, the Syrian government’s top negotiator, Bashar al-Jaafari, meanwhile harshly criticised De Mistura, insisting he had “undermined” his position as mediator.

Speaking to reporters, Jaafari voiced outrage over an interview the mediator had with Swiss television late Wednesday, in which he appealed to Moscow to push for new Syrian elections.

“His statement undermined his mandate as a facilitator of the talks, which will affect the entire Geneva process,” Jaafari said.

Jaafari emphasised that while Syria’s government may have “allies, friends and people who fight with us on the ground,” it enjoys “the highest possible degree of sovereignty”.

“Therefore nobody can influence us,” he said, insisting that “what the envoy mistakenly said as a linguistic slip … does not reflect the relationship between us and Moscow.”

More than 340,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in March 2011 when protests against Assad’s rule sparked a brutal crackdown.

by Nina LARSON
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Putin must nudge Syria into U.N. peace deal, mediator says — Defiant Syrian envoy blames West, Saudis and UN — Talks end

December 14, 2017

Reuters

GENEVA (Reuters) – U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura urged Russia on Wednesday to convince its ally the Syrian government of the need to clinch a peace deal to end the nearly seven-year-old war.

Image result for Staffan de Mistura, photos

UN Special Envoy to the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura

De Mistura, speaking on Swiss television station RTS, said failure to make peace quickly through United Nations mediation could lead to “a fragmentation of Syria”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a surprise visit on Monday to Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria, declared that the work of Russian forces was largely done in backing the Assad government against militants, following the defeat of “the most battle-hardened group of international terrorists.”

De Mistura, asked what signal Putin could give from his position of force, said: ”Convince the (Syrian) government that there is no time to lose…. You can think you win territory militarily but you have to win the peace.

Naser al-Hariri, Head of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC), attends a round of negotiations with United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura (not pictured), during the Intra Syria talks, at the European headquarters of the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Xu Jinquan/Pool

“And to win the peace, you have to have the courage to push the government to accept that there has to be a new constitution and new elections, through the United Nations,” he said.

The nearly seven-year civil war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes. All previous diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have ended in failure over the opposition’s demand that President Bashar al-Assad leave power and his refusal to go.

The Kremlin first launched air strikes in Syria in September 2015 in its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, turning the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor.

Now that it regards that mission complete, Putin wants to help broker a peace deal and is keen to organize a special event in Russia – a Syrian Congress on National Dialogue – that Moscow hopes will bring together the Syrian government and opposition and try to hammer out a new constitution.

But De Mistura made clear that peace negotiations must be through the United Nations in Geneva, as mandated by the U.N. Security Council, adding: “Otherwise it is not worth it…. This is a complicated war, it is only in Geneva through the U.N.”

The U.N. envoy has conducted shuttle diplomacy between the Syrian government delegation led by chief negotiator Bashar al-Ja‘afari and a unified opposition delegation.

”The opposition told me clearly when they arrived here, and again yesterday and this morning too, that they are ready to meet the government right away to have a hard, difficult discussion.

“The government is not ready, it has said it is not ready to meet the opposition. That is regrettable but diplomacy has many means,” de Mistura said.

A senior Western diplomat said that the government delegation had failed to engage with de Mistura on a new constitution and elections during a round of negotiations due to end on Thursday.

“Clearly they did not have any intention to engage in this political process. And clearly they are not under sufficient pressure to do so,” the diplomat told Reuters. “The clear impression is the regime wants to avoid the U.N.-led political process at any cost.”

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Peter Graff

Related:

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Bashar al-Ja’afari

Defiant Syrian envoy blames West, Saudis and UN as peace talks end

GENEVA, Dec 14 (Reuters) – Syrian government negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari accused Western countries and Saudi Arabia of sabotage and blackmail at the end of a round of U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva on Thursday, and said Damascus did not want to see the political process fail.

“Nobody can exert pressure on us,” Ja’afari told reporters after a session with U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura, who he said had made an error by commenting in an interview on Russia’s influence, which could “derail his mandate”. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, writing by Tom Miles)

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-5179731/Defiant-Syrian-envoy-blames-West-Saudis-UN-peace-talks-end.html#ixzz51FfYAiKd
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Syria’s Geneva Peace Talks Hijacked By Assad Forces: “The regime delegation is afraid to negotiate transition because it knows that leads to freedom.”

December 14, 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd-R), his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad (2nd-L), Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R), and Syrian Armed Forces’ chief of staff Ali Abdullah Ayyoub. (AFP)

JEDDAH: The goal of the Syrian regime’s delegation is to make Syria safe for Bashar Assad, while the opposition’s goal is to make the country safe for “our people to come home,” Yahya Al-Aridi, opposition spokesman at the Geneva peace talks, told Arab News on Wednesday.

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It followed reports that the regime delegation in Geneva is refusing to negotiate with the opposition directly and insisting on only discussing terrorism.
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The opposition has been calling for the “indirect” peace talks — with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura’s team shuttling between the delegations — to become direct.
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Asked why the regime is avoiding direct talks, Al-Aridi said: “The regime delegation is afraid to negotiate transition because it knows that leads to freedom.”
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Another opposition official in Geneva, Ahmad Ramadan, told The Associated Press that the regime delegation has also refused to discuss three of the four main topics proposed by de Mistura — a new constitution, governance, elections and combating terrorism.
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He said the regime is insisting only on discussing terrorism.
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Al-Aridi said the regime uses terrorism as an excuse for delay. “It claims to be fighting terrorism while bombing civilians. The way to rid our country of terrorism is to make Syria stable, with a constitution that sets the people free.”
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On the regime’s insistence that the opposition drop its demand for transition without Assad, Al-Aridi said: “The point of any negotiation is that different sides have different goals, not preconditions.”
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Bahia Al-Mardini, a UK-based Syrian journalist and human rights activist who fled regime persecution, told Arab News: “Many twists and turns are likely as the negotiations intensify, but we should remain optimistic about the prospect of a democratic transition for Syria.
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“After years of suffering, we live in hope that breakthroughs will come and ordinary Syrian people will be set free from the regime that they have been rejecting for years,” she said.
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Al-Mardini added: “For this to happen, it will require support from the international community to pressure the regime to engage seriously in the political process, so that we can end this war and begin building a new Syria where human rights and democracy are respected.”
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 http://www.arabnews.com/node/1208676/middle-east

U.S., France urge Russia to “deliver” Assad delegation to Syria peace talks

December 6, 2017

By Tom Miles

Reuters

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States and France called on Russia on Wednesday to deliver the delegation of President Bashar al-Assad to Syria peace talks in Geneva after discussions on ending the six-year war resumed with no sign of the government attending.

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Syria’s U.N. ambassador and chief negociator Bashar al-Ja’afari. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The eighth round of negotiations began last week and after a few days with little apparent progress, U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura said the government delegation, led by Bashar al-Ja‘afari, was returning to Damascus to “consult and refresh”.

De Mistura expected talks to resume “around Tuesday” Dec. 5, but Ja‘afari left Geneva on Saturday and said he might not come back because the opposition had stated that Assad could not play a role in a future interim government.

A source close to the Syrian government’s negotiating team told Reuters the delegation was still in Damascus on Wednesday.

“We have said to the Russians it is important that the Syrian regime be at the table and be part of these negotiations and part of the discussion,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a news conference in Brussels. “We have left it to the Russians to deliver them to table.”

Syrian officials have not said if Ja‘afari will return to the talks but opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi said on Monday a government boycott would be “an embarrassment to Russia”, which is keen to see a negotiated end to the war.

The opposition negotiating team arrived at the U.N. offices in Geneva on Wednesday morning to resume talks with de Mistura, who declined to comment late on Tuesday when asked about the absence of Ja‘afari’s negotiators.

“It takes two to Tango, but at the same time you need to talk to the other party,” Aridi told reporters on Wednesday. “If they are quite serious about bringing peace to Syria, well they should show up.”

France, a key backer of the Syrian opposition, accused the government of blocking the U.N.-led effort and refusing to engage in good faith to achieve a political solution.

“This refusal highlights the obstruction strategy of the political process carried out by the Damascus regime, which is responsible for the absence of progress in the negotiations,” French foreign ministry deputy spokesman Alexandre Georgini told reporters.

He also said that Russia, as one of Assad’s main supporters, needed to assume its responsibilities so that the Syrian government finally entered the negotiations.

The Russian mission in Geneva did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

During last week’s sessions, de Mistura shuttled between representatives of the warring sides, who did not meet face-to-face. He had planned to continue the round until Dec. 15.

Reporting by Issam Abdullah in Geneva, Kinda Makieh in Damascus, Robin Emmott in Brussels and John Irish in Paris; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Mark Heinrich