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Week in Review: While Geneva Talks Move Forward, US Policy Falters and Syria Falls Apart

Geneva II peace talks resume on Monday, after a one-week pause. They pick up on a sense of positive momentum, despite limited grains of concrete progress.

Written by Lara Setrakian Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

(U.N. envoy and lead negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi said there was enough ”ground to stand on”).

In the backdrop, the U.S. and Russia continue their own conversations on the situation in Syria – arguably a more consequential track than the rebels and the regime, sitting at the negotiating table. The U.S. and Russia officially co-sponsor the Geneva peace talks, theoretically pushing on points of leverage they have within each camp. To date their pushing hasn’t been enough to move the two sides toward any significant concessions, relative to the scale of the crisis.

Take, for example, the “humanitarian pause” in Homs. The three-day ceasefire was meant to deliver lifesaving aid to 2,500 civilians trapped in the Old City, according to the Guardian. Compared that to a total of roughly four million civilians living under siege across the country, often without adequate food, water, or sanitation. In all, some 9.3 million people in Syria need some form of aid, according to the UN. By Sunday, eyewitnesses said roughly 600 people had been evacuated from Homs.

Earlier this week members of the U.N. Security Council pushed for resolution that would enable broad-based aid deliveries to Syria, but the move was swiftly ruled out by Russia.

With the US hamstrung at the Security Council and facing a bloody stalemate on the ground, Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that the Obama administration’s policy is failing in Syria, according to the Washington Post (U.S. officials downplayed it a “mischaracterization”). More clearly in the public record, Obama’s National Intelligence Director testified this week that President Bashar al Assad is now in a stronger position in Syria, gaining ground since and because of the U.S.-brokered chemical weapons deal in September.

Even that deal is now falling behind its promise, with key deadlines missed and less than 5% of Syria’s chemical stockpile removed (it was supposed to be all gone by December 31). The plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal “is not falling apart, but we would like to see it proceed much more quickly than it is,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told CBS.

The U.S. condemned a new round of regime barrel bombs dropped on Aleppo, with Kerry calling it the “latest barbaric act of the Syrian regime.” Syrians activists tell us they no longer take those statements, or the U.S., very seriously. The week the State Department said it Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, would soon retire and leave his post.

Meanwhile, Americans are playing an active role in the jihadi ranks. At least 50 Americans have gone to fight in Syria, reports the Associated Press, a fact that the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary sees as a domestic threat. Jihadi groups have spiraled so far out of control and into autonomous, extremist realms that this week al-Qaida kicked out its Syria franchise for insubordination, disowning the Islamic State of Syrian and Iraq (ISIS).

A new UN report on the abuse of children in Syria found that kids have been sexually abused in government detention, recruited to fight with the opposition, tortured with electric shocks, and used as civilian shields. The New York Times, citing the report, wrote that at least 10,000 children have been killed to date.

Meanwhile fighting is inching closer to Krak des Chevaliers, one Syria’s most important historical landmark. At other heritage sites, UNESCO says illegal excavations have been “lethal” to Syria’s cultural heritage. As theft and illegal digging feed the market for stolen artifacts – Syrian treasures are on the black market. Syria is literally being taken apart in pieces, sold to the world, while global powers decide its fate.

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