Geneva Talks Falter Due to Heavy Russian Airstrikes
Representatives of the Syrian opposition in Geneva on Tuesday said the government offensive supported by heavy Russian airstrikes in Aleppo threatens to derail the talks before they’ve even begun.
According to the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC), Russia’s “unprecedented” bombardment near Aleppo – some 320 airstrikes since Monday – could wreck ongoing attempts in Geneva to establish a lasting peace in Syria, AFP reports.
“Since last night a big massacre is taking place in Syria and nobody is doing anything,” said HNC representative Salem al-Meslet. “Nobody is saying anything, the international community is completely blind.”
The HNC canceled its meeting with U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura on Tuesday afternoon in protest over Russia’s heavy bombardment.
The group issued a statement condemning “a massive acceleration of Russian and regime military aggression on Aleppo and Homs,” and calling it a threat to the political process in Geneva.
De Mistura admitted Tuesday that a collapse of the talks in Geneva was always a possibility. “If there is a failure this time after we tried twice at conferences in Geneva, for Syria there will be no more hope. We must absolutely try to ensure that there is no failure,” he told a Swiss television network.
The opposition has said the talks cannot move forward unless Bashar al-Assad’s government halts its bombardment of civilian areas, allows humanitarian access to the 18 government-besieged areas across the country and releases thousands of prisoners – some of them children – held in government prisons.
According to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights, at least 18 civilians were killed in Tuesday’s air raids, including five women, three children and two emergency workers.
“We have never seen things like this since the beginning of the revolution,” said HNC spokeswoman Basma Kodmani.
The government offensive in Aleppo that began this week is the first major military operation in the area since Russia militarily intervened at the end of September 2015.
The offensive aims to cut vital rebel supply lines extending from Turkey into opposition-held parts of the city of Aleppo, and to end the opposition’s siege on two government-held Shiite villages – Nubol and Zahraa.
Government Allows Aid Into Al-Tal
The Syrian government allowed aid to enter rebel-held areas of Damascus on Tuesday in an apparent gesture of goodwill as peace talks in Geneva continued to hit stumbling blocks.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) brought 14 truckloads of aid provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) into al-Tal suburb, ICRC spokesman Pawel Krzysiek told the Associated Press.
The delivery included enough food and hygiene kits for some 3,500 families.
But while groups opposed to the rule of Bashar al-Assad have demanded a halt to government sieges before talks can progress in Geneva, opposition official Ahmad Ramadan said the al-Tal delivery was an empty gesture.
“The only way” to save the negotiations, according to Ramadan, is for “the United Nations and the United States to force an end to bombardment and the targeting of civilians.”
The transport of aid to al-Tal came one day after the government’s approval of U.N. aid shipments to the besieged towns of Fuaa, Kafraya and Madaya, where hundreds are suffering from severe malnutrition and more than 40 people have starved to death.
According to the Associated Press, it was not immediately clear why aid was delivered to al-Tal but not to the other areas.
Russia Agrees to Two Islamist Groups in Syria Talks
Moscow has agreed to the participation on an individual basis of two Syrian rebel Islamist groups in the peace talks in Geneva, Reuters reports.
While Bashar al-Assad’s central ally had long objected to the idea that Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) and Ahrar al-Sham take part in the talks, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that Russia had agreed the two groups would attend.
“This does not mean that this is an acknowledgement of Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham as two legitimate partners in the negotiations,” he said.
“This is our stance and this is the stance of so many parties in the support group and they consider these guys terrorists.”
Jaish al-Islam representative Mohamed Alloush arrived in Geneva earlier this week, but said Tuesday he was not optimistic about the chances for success.
Alloush said he endorsed the U.N. Security Council resolution passed in December 2015 outlining a political solution to the brutal five-year conflict.
“We have announced that we support Resolution 2254,” he said. “I challenge Bashar and Russia’s [Vladimir] Putin to accept this resolution in full and implement it on the ground in full … I don’t think they will ever comply.”
- Foreign Policy: U.N. Plan Calls for Intel Team in Damascus
- Amnesty International: ‘I Want a Safe Place’: Refugee Women From Syria Uprooted and Unprotected in Lebanon
- The New York Times: New Offensive by Assad’s Forces Overshadows Syria Peace Talks
- CNN: Inside Syria: The Farm Airstrip That’s the Center of the U.S. Fight Against ISIS
- The Guardian: We Must Not Let Syria’s Health Service Fail
Top image: Army of Islam official Mohamed Alloush heads to a meeting with the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. Ahrar al-Sham and the Army of Islam, two Islamic groups fighting to overthrow Assad, agreed to take part in the Geneva talks. The hard-line Ahrar al-Sham is not part of the team sent to Geneva, but the delegation has named Alloush as its chief negotiator. (AP Photo/Bassem Mroue)