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Executive Summary for November 27th

We review the key developments in Syria, including dozens of civilians killed in airstrikes across the country, mixed reactions to a Russian-sponsored peace congress and the opposition selecting a new top negotiator to lead a unified delegation to talks in Geneva.

Published on Nov. 27, 2017 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Scores Killed in Shelling and Airstrikes on Eastern Ghouta, Deir Ezzor

At least 23 people were killed in government shelling and airstrikes on a rebel-held enclave outside the capital Damascus on Sunday, Agence France-Presse reported.

The attacks targeted the towns of Mesraba, Madira and Douma in the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburbs, AFP said, citing the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

More than 100 people have been killed by airstrikes and shelling on the Eastern Ghouta since pro-government forces, backed by Russian warplanes, launched an offensive nearly two weeks ago to reclaim one of the last rebel strongholds near the capital, the SOHR said.

Separately, Russian airstrikes on the eastern province of Deir Ezzor killed another 34 people, including 15 children, on Sunday, AFP said, also citing the SOHR.

The strikes targeted al-Shafah, a village held by the so-called Islamic State on the eastern banks of the Euphrates river.

The attack comes at a time when pro-government forces and the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are waging simultaneous but separate offensives against the militant group in their last holdouts in Syria.

Russian-Sponsored Sochi Summit Draws Mixed Reactions

A Russian proposal to host a Syrian peace congress in Sochi has drawn mixed reactions from the international community and local actors.

The latest diplomatic push by Russia to end the six-year-long war seeks to bring the Syrian government and its opponents together to discuss a political settlement for the conflict, including a new constitution and the holding of U.N.-supervised elections.

The congress will take place in the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi but a date has not yet been scheduled, largely because of disagreements with Turkey over the attendance of Syria’s Kurdish groups.

Turkey and Iran said they backed Russian efforts to host a Syrian peace congress, after a trilateral presidential meeting in Sochi last Wednesday. The presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran issued a joint statement calling on the Syrian government and opposition to “participate constructively” in the planned congress, Reuters reported.

On Sunday, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, a close ally of the Syrian government, told Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad that the Sochi summit was “a right step at the right time” toward stability in Syria, Reuters reported.

Germany, however, has dismissed Russia’s latest initiative, according to Reuters.

“It is the height of cynicism that, of all countries, Russia and Iran, which fuelled the civil war in Syria in their own interests, causing the deaths of thousands of people, now want to develop a political vision for Syria’s future,” Juergen Hardt, foreign policy speaker for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in parliament, said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a top aide to President Assad said on Thursday that the planned congress will only succeed if the Syrian opposition lays down its arms and stops fighting the Syrian government, Reuters reported.

The Syrian opposition, for its part, said last week that the proposed congress did not serve the political process, and called on the international community to focus instead on U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva, Reuters said.

Opposition Selects Lead Negotiator to Geneva Talks

The Syrian opposition on Friday selected a new chief negotiator to head a unified delegation to peace talks with the Syrian government in Geneva this week, AFP reported.

“Nasr al-Hariri, head of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, was picked to lead a 36-member negotiating team for the talks on November 28, after three days of intense negotiations between various opposition groups in Riyadh,” AFP said, citing Syrian opposition members.

The opposition delegation will include various opposition groups including the HNC, the largest bloc, in addition to the Cairo and Moscow-based opposition platforms, AFP said.

Hariri replaces Riad Hijab, former head of the HNC, who resigned last week because of what he said were attempts to force the opposition to come to terms with Assad’s survival.

Friday’s announcement came one day after opposition groups in Riyadh maintained that President Assad has no role in a transitional period under a U.N.-sponsored peace deal, Reuters reported.

“The participants stressed that this (the transition) cannot happen without the departure of Bashar al-Assad and his clique at the start of the interim period,” opposition groups said in a statement released on Thursday at the end of a meeting that gathered more than 140 participants from a broad spectrum of Syria’s mainstream opposition.

Separately, U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura met on Friday with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, in preparation for the latest round of talks in Geneva, according to Reuters. Lavrov said Russia was working with Saudi Arabia to unify Syrian opposition groups ahead of negotiations in the Swiss city.

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