14 April 2016

Geneva Peace talks have lost momentum

The president of Syria: Bashar al-Assad is accused of using pretexts to avoid the continuation of the Geneva Peace Talks which are due to begin next week. The Syrian government is flouting all UN resolutions and using pretexts to avoid talks, opposition leader Asaad al-Zoubi told reporters on Wednesday after holding talks with special UN envoy in Geneva.

Zoubi, the chief mediator for the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), described President Assad as "the disease that has struck Syria", which can only heal once he and other emblematic figures leave.

A truce between the government and the moderate opposition brokered by the US and Russia has largely been holding since February 27, but fresh fighting in northern Syria in the past four days has killed more than 100 people.

UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that there have been incidents on the ground but cessation of hostilities were still holding.The UN envoy said the recent upsurge in fighting amounted to "incidents and not a bush fire" as he vowed to press ahead with efforts to reach a political transition in the war-torn country despite mixed messages about the process from the Damascus regime,namely Bashar al-Assad.

A government delegation is expected to arrive in coming days for the "proximity talks" in which the two sides meet separately with de Mistura, but with no face-to-face meeting between delegations.

On the day the talks began, Assad's government held parliamentary elections in government-controlled areas.

Critics insist the elections are illegitimate largely because the five-year war has driven millions of Syrians from their homes, leaving them unable to vote.

But Damascus backers Russia and Iran have supported the elections, with Moscow saying the elections were needed to shore up its existing state structures until peace talks pave way for a new vote.

It would appear that Bashar al-Assad  does not want the pease talks to continue and is participating in an election that only a small percentage of Syrians are attending.  Fighting has also broken out in Allepo. Government planes carried out "unprecedented" air strikes in recent days on the rebel-held eastern parts of Aleppo city, according to the Observatory, which relies on a broad network of sources inside Syria.

Government forces, backed by Russian air power, pressed a similar offensive around Aleppo city during a previous failed round of talks at the end of January. Western powers blamed that escalation for the breakdown of those talks.

Al-Nusra and allied rebel groups were also pushing their own offensive on the town of Khan Touman near Aleppo city, the Observatory said.

Washington has expressed worries that an assault against Al-Nusra in Aleppo may spread to moderate rebel factions, which could cause the truce to collapse and derail peace efforts.

Wave of strikes

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also warned that continued indiscriminate attacks on civilians could cause the truce to break down.

It said recent attacks by rebel groups on Kurdish-majority neighbourhoods in Aleppo city and by government forces east of Damascus "threaten to derail the 'cessation of hostilities'”.

"A decrease in casualty numbers brought a much-needed respite for Syrians, but many civilians are still dying in unlawful attacks," Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy Middle East director, said in a statement.

The ceasefire brought relative calm to parts of northern and central Syria, allowing increased humanitarian aid deliveries and a significant drop in daily deaths.

Despite the talks, the government will go ahead on Wednesday with parliamentary elections in the areas it controls.

The UN does not recognise the vote and it has been dismissed by Assad's foreign and Syrian opponents as illegitimate.

De Mistura travelled from Syria to Iran on Tuesday to meet with senior officials in Tehran, which along with Moscow is one of Assad's key international backers.

As well as providing economic aid, Iran has sent military advisers from its elite Revolutionary Guards to Syria, dozens of whom have been killed.

Moscow launched a wave of air strikes in support of the government last September, though last month Moscow ordered the bulk of Russian forces to withdraw.

Russia’s defence ministry said two Russian military pilots were killed in a helicopter crash near the central Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday.