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Executive Summary for June 14th

We review key developments in Syria, including the killing of 224 people during the first week of Ramadan, U.S. frustrations over lack of progress on the political transition in Syria and the U.N. making headway on probes into chemical attacks.

Published on June 14, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

More Than 200 Casualties in First Week of Ramadan

At least 224 people were killed in Syria during the first seven days of the holy month of Ramadan, according to a U.K.-based monitoring group.

Government and Russian airstrikes were responsible for the majority of the deaths in Syria between June 6 and 12, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday. Barrel bombs dropped on various opposition-controlled towns in the country killed 148 civilians, including 50 children and 15 women.

Shelling from rebel factions and the so-called Islamic State group killed at least 12 people and at least one man was killed in an ISIS execution during the same period.

“We … renew our condemnation of the international community for its continued terrifying silence about the crimes committed against the Syrian people,” the Observatory said.

One of the deadliest attacks during the first week of Ramadan took place on Sunday, when government and Russian airstrikes hit a busy market in the city of Idlib killing at least 41 civilians, including women and children.

No Progress on Political Transition In Syria

Less than two months away from the August 1 deadline, there has yet to be any progress made in negotiations for a political transition in Syria, U.S. officials said on Monday.

U.S. state department spokesman Mark Toner, speaking at a press briefing on Monday, urged all parties involved to meet the deadline and adhere to its terms in order to kickstart the political transition, and added that deadlines were “action-enforcing events,” according to the Turkey-based Anadolu Agency.

“It’s not like August 2 we’re going to throw in the towel and everybody walk away,” Toner said.

The situation in Syria is “better than it was before,” Toner added, but stressed the importance of all states involved in the conflict collaborating in negotiations for the political transition.

The Geneva talks officially collapsed in late April when the main opposition body, the High Negotiations Committee, suspended its participation in negotiations after the Syrian government carried out several heavy attacks on opposition-held areas of Aleppo.

Despite the lack of headway, the political transition can still be successful “if we get the right kind of coordination and buy-in from Russia, from all members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and then most importantly the parties on the ground,” Toner said, but added that “with the current climate, the current environment, it’s hard to get the opposition certainly back to Geneva.”

Two weeks ago, Mohammed Alloush, the chief negotiator for the Syrian opposition, resigned from his post and quit the Geneva-based peace talks. Alloush claimed the negotiations had, thus far, neither furthered the political transition nor brought any relief to people stranded in the country’s besieged areas.

U.S. secretary of state John Kerry spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Monday to discuss both the political transition and measures necessary to ensure humanitarian assistance is able to reach besieged towns in Syria.

The U.S. is still waiting for Russia to address specific terms regarding the cease-fire, Toner said.

U.N. Is Making Progress on Chemical Weapons Investigation

The United Nations is making progress on its investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, but has yet to identify those responsible for the alleged attacks, according to a U.N. report obtained by Agence France-Presse.

Last year, the U.N. security council set up the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to investigate nine possible chemical weapons attacks that allegedly took place in 2014 and 2015 in the Syrian provinces of Hama, Idlib and Aleppo. The team, led by Argentinian expert Virginia Gamba, was also tasked with identifying groups or individuals responsible for the attacks.

“Investigations into the nine cases under consideration by the mechanism have all progressed,” but pinning down the perpetrators “continues to be dependent on sufficiency of information,” the report said, according to AFP.

JIM is looking into several different claims of chemical weapons usage, include the alleged use of chlorine gas in barrel bombs and mustard gas. The Syrian government is notorious for its use of explosive barrels in Syria and the Islamic State group was accused of using mustard gas in the town of Marea, in Aleppo, last summer.

The team has already visited seven countries, including two visits to Syria to question possible suspects from the government, and is planning to visit three more in June.

On its first anniversary in August, the JIM team is expected to present the findings of its investigations to the U.N. security council. However, this may be delayed if the findings do not include a list of individuals and groups that should be held accountable for these attacks.

If the investigation does result in a list of perpetrators, the Security Council would have to adopt a new resolution that would allow them to hold these individuals or groups accountable, AFP reported.

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