ROJAVA UPDATE 180: TOP US ENVOY VISITS KOBANE AS KURDISH DELEGATION TURNED AWAY FROM PARTICIPATION IN GENEVA PEACE TALKS

By Peter Clifford          ©         (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-and-iraq-news/)

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SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

On Saturday morning, Islamic State (IS) units attempted to send in a suicide vehicle bomb against YPG fighters protecting the Tishreen Dam in the south-west of Kobane Canton.

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View of the Tishreen Dam

Spotting the vehicle, a YPG team was dispatched to intercept it, destroying the vehicle and killing 3 x IS fighters and wounding a fourth.

Also on Saturday, IS once again attacked in the Ain Iss area in the southern part of the Canton near the village of Abdul-Razaq. The YPG led a search operation and found a small weapons cache of rifles, machine guns and mines as well killing 3 x IS Jihadists and capturing 2 more.

The YPG General Command has also issued a statement warning the Turkish Armed Forces to stay out of Rojava after they crossed the border on Thursday and Friday last week near the village of Sermisax, 13 kilometers to the west of the city Derik.

The Turks fired at local Kurds who gathered near the border to protest the incursion, but fortunately there were no casualties.

The Coalition is reported to have bombed the IS-held town of Shaddadi on Sunday, north of Raqqah, hitting several IS checkpoints and a weapons storage centre. 14 x IS Jihadists guarding the checkpoints were reported killed according to local sources.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 5 airstrikes in Syria on Saturday, 2 near Hasakah hitting IS tactical units, destroying an IS structure and 2 x IS fighting positions and other strikes near Raqqah, Ayn Issa and Mar’a, destroying a crane and hitting 2 tactical units. The same day, 18 strikes were made in Iraq.

In Aleppo city, both the Al Nusra Front (ANF) and the Islamist Opposition group Ahrar Al-Sham (AAS) attacked the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsoud on Saturday with mortars. In an immediate response, the YPG attacked a position on the Jandol Road, from where the attack originated, and destroyed 3 vehicles and a communications centre.

6 fighters from ANF and AAS were killed in the operation and another 8 wounded and taken prisoner.

Also in Aleppo, in retaliation for a barrel-bomb attack by the Assad regime on Sheikh Maqsoud (scroll down – see Rojava Update 179 below), the YPG attacked an Assad security checkpoint with mortars. 4 pro-Assad fighters were killed and 7 injured.

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Obama’s US Envoy on IS Meets Kobane Administration

Meanwhile, while the Kurds appear to have, for moment at least, been excluded from the Syria “Peace Talks” in Geneva, a high-level delegation from the US-led International Coalition made a 2 day visit to northern Syria at the weekend.

The delegation, which included British and French representatives plus most interestingly, President Obama’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk, met with Kobane Canton Adminstration officials in Kobane City on Saturday and then with senior officers of the Syrian Democratic Force to discuss the campaign against the Islamic State.

McGurk’s visit, the first by a top US diplomat to Rojava, appears to be a deliberate attempt to assuage Kurdish anger over their exclusion from the talks in Geneva.

Despite not having a formal invitation, a Kurdish team, led by PYD co-chairman Saleh Muslim, travelled to Switzerland last week and based themselves in Lausanne, ready to step forward to Geneva if called.

According to US sources, the Kurds were discreetly asked to leave Switzerland on Saturday after Turkey said it would not participate in the talks if the Kurds remained. US Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken apparently called Saleh Muslim to discuss “Washington’s view on the Kurdish issue and the peace talks” and assurances have been made that the Kurds will be involved “at a later date”.

Returning to Syria, Saleh Muslim said the Kurds would not recognise an agreements made under Geneva 3 unless their had been Kurdish participation in making those agreements. You can read more, HERE:

Over in Iraq, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concern about the preservation of the sites of mass graves on and around Mount Sinjar, where 25 locations have been identified, 19 of them confirmed.

Already, many of the graves have been disturbed before experts can evaluate them and catalogue the remains of victims executed by the Islamic State as they rampaged across northern Iraq. You can read more at HRW.

40 kilometres east of Mosul, IS launched a mortar attack on a Peshmerga security centre in the Khazir district on Sunday evening, killing 8 Kurdish fighters and wounding another 6.

In Mosul city itself, IS are reported to executed on Sunday 4 Kurdish civilians from the Shabak clan for “spying for the Peshmerga” and on Friday another 20 of its own Jihadists for “abandoning their posts in western Mosul without permission”. The Jihadists were beheaded, according to local reports.

DEVASTATING ISLAMIC STATE ATTACK NEAR SHIA SHRINE IN DAMASCUS, WHILE ANOTHER 16 DIE OF STARVATION IN MADAYA:

As well as rejecting the Kurds, the “Peace Talks” got off to a shaky start on Friday, with only the Syrian Government delegation, led by Syria’s UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, having arrived.

Jaafari started off well in typical “conciliatory” style by branding all Opposition representatives as “terrorists”, and the Opposition team, known as the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) did not even make a decision to attend at all until late Friday night.

Arriving in Geneva over the weekend, the HNC insisted that they would not negotiate with Assad’s representatives until women and children were released from government jails, air strikes on civilians ended and aid was allowed into besieged towns.

Meeting with the UN mediator Staffan de Mistura on Sunday, the Opposition were given some hope that the Assad regime will go some way to meeting those demands. Talks are expected to last for 6 months but not “face-to-face”.

Initially, “proximity talks” will take place with delegations in separate rooms and UN mediators moving between the parties to try and negotiate some steps forward. The BBC has a rather grim assessment of the likelihood of a “positive” outcome.

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Aftermath of Triple Explosion Near Sayyida Zeinab Shrine, Damascus

In a statement of some kind the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a huge bomb attack in southern Damascus early on Sunday morning near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine.

Sayyida Zeinab was the grand-daughter of Prophet Mohammed and the shrine is of major importance to Shia Islam with regular visitors from all over the Moslem world.

Hezbollah has gone out of its way to protect the shrine and even now in the height of the war, many pilgrims travel there from Iran.

Altogether, there were 3 explosions near the shrine, one from a car bomb and 2 from suicide belts. The car bomb was exploded at the bus station in the Koua Soudan area and after people came to help the injured, two suicide bombers blew themselves up nearby.

Many death toll figures have been widely quoted, though the latest from Syria’s Ministry of Interior is 50 dead and 110 injured.

According to sources inside Syria, President Assad has replaced the commander in charge of the Republican Guard, the country’s elite unit charged with protecting the leadership.

Out goes Badiaa Ali and in comes one of Assad’s cousins from his mother’s side, Brigadier General Talal Mahklouf. Human Rights Watch (HRW) identified Mahklouf as one of the officers responsible for the brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in Syria in 2011. The officer commanding the surrounded garrison in Deir Ez Zour has also got the sack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented the deaths of 4,680 people in Syria in January 2016 – 1,345 of them civilians, including 295 children and 190 women. The other 3,335 deaths were roughly split between the pro and anti-Assad combatants on the two sides, including IS.

Interestingly, Free Syrian Army (FSA) founder, Colonel Riad Al-Asaad, has said in an interview that the FSA is holding prisoner a “large number” of Iranian, Hezbollah and pro-Assad Shia militia fighters, including officers and an Iranian Captain. Asaad assured the interviewer that these prisoners were being looked after well.

Meanwhile, fighting goes across Syria. In Latakia the Opposition, having lost territory, have moved to a more “hit and run” campaign, destroying a Syrian Army ammunition truck with a TOW missile, HERE:

In their usual “compassionate” manner, Assad’s or Russian planes bombed a tented refugee camp in northern Latakia on Saturday in an attempt to drive the pro-Opposition residents out of the province and into Turkey.

In Hama province, Opposition fighters have gained ground, taking over all of Al-Buwaydah and destroying 2 of Assad’s tanks and a BMP armoured vehicle.

In Idlib province an exchange of prisoners between the regime and Islamist Opposition groups at the 2 Alawite villages of Kafraya and Al-Fuah has taken place, the second stage of an agreement reached in January, along with humanitarian access to Madaya near Damascus. The regime released 27 prisoners, the Islamists 18.

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Syrian Red Crescent Aid Convoy Approaches Madaya on January 14th, 2016

However, Medicin Sans Frontieres (MSF) is reporting that another 16 people have died from malnutrition in Madaya since humanitarian aid agencies gained access in January after a worldwide outcry, bring the total that have starved to death there to 46.

According to their estimates there are 320 outstanding cases of malnutrition and 33 so severe that they require urgent medical treatment. The Syrian Red Crescent said that they were allowed access on Saturday but only to make assessments, not to deliver aid.

This moving report from Marianne Gasser of the International Red Cross on her visit to Madaya says it all:

“A cold rain was falling as the men carried the small bundle towards me. They were insisting I should take it. A crowd had gathered. The only light came from the phones we carried; there had not been electricity for months.

The men stopped and slowly, carefully unwrapped the blanket. At first, I could not make out what was inside. Then it suddenly dawned on me that it was an old man”.

You can read more (recommended reading) via the BBC.

In Deir Ez Zour heavy fighting is reported today, Monday, in the northern outskirts of the city, around Assad Base Brigade 137 and to the south-west, despite an estimated 200 airstrikes by Russian jets. Heavy casualties reported on both sides.

Also today, the Assad regime launched a new attempt to gain ground north of Aleppo city around Duwayra Al-Zeytoun and Bashkuy but latest reports suggest it is not going to plan, with Opposition fighters destroying Assad’s tanks, an armoured vehicle and a technical (pick-up with mounted heavy machine gun) and retaking villages they had lost earlier to both the regime and the Islamic State.

UN Rights Chief: Starving Civilians Is Crime against Humanity, Potential War Crime

UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that starvation of Syrian civilians is a potential war crime and a crime against humanity that should be prosecuted and not covered by any amnesty linked to ending the conflict.

Speaking in a news briefing in Geneva earlier today, the top UN human rights official said that “in the case of Syria, we are there to remind everyone that where there are allegations that reach the threshold of war crimes or crimes against humanity that amnesties are not permissible.”

Pointing to the what he said was the starvation of people in the town of Madaya, and the siege of 15 other towns and cities in Syria, Al Hussein said this was “not just a war crime but a crime against humanity if proven in court.”

“We estimate that tens of thousands are held in arbitrary detention and clearly they need to be released,” Al Hussein added.

Vice-president of the Syrian Coalition Hisham Marwa said last week that “the Assad regime’s siege and bombardment of civilians violate UN Security Council resolutions. Assad has been committing these crimes under military and political cover by Russia. Meanwhile, the Assad regime continues to deceive the international community and procrastinate with regard to the political process.”

“Assad seeks to thwart any possible political solution through besieging civilians amid the international community’s failure to enforce UN Security Council resolutions which call for lifting the siege and the delivery of aid to the besieged areas,” Marwa added.

(Source: Syrian Coalition + Agencies / 01.02.2016)

HNC: No Negotiations With Assad Before Bombardment Stopped, Sieges Lifted & Detainees Released

Head of the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee’s (HNC) delegation Asaad al-Zoabi said today that the Syrian opposition would not give up their demands for the full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2254, particularly Articles 12 and 13. He stressed the opposition would not engage in negotiations with the Assad regime before these demands were met

“We will raise only three issues during our meeting with de Mistura: lifting the sieges, ending Russian bombardment of mainstream rebels and civilians, and releasing political prisoners and detainees, most importantly women and children,” Zoabi added.

Spokesperson of the High Negotiations Committee, Salem Al-Meslet, said that the positions expressed by representatives of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) during a meeting with the HNC’s delegation were positive and focused on humanitarian issues.

The HNC announced the formation of an advisory body to represent women. The body will be composed of 40 women who will act as consultants and will contribute to the negotiation process. The HNC pointed out that the move was taken out of the HNC’s realization of the pressing need for the effective participation of the Syrian woman within the frame of the HNC and the affiliated negotiating team.

In a statement released today, the HNC said the new body “would result in raising the HNC’s level in terms of representation and expertise as the HNC considers making use of Syrian expertise and national potentials as a guarantee for the success of the HNC and its teams as well as the success of the political process.”

“Actual and active representation for all components of the Syrian society is the corner stone of the successful political transition in Syria, and that HNC is of the view that empowering women and enhancing their presence in the political process and their participation in decision making shall have positive results on the negotiating process and the future of the Syrian state,” the statement added.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 01.02.2016)

Syria opposition threatens to walk out of Geneva talks

Opposition delegates say they will leave if government does not lift sieges on rebel-held areas and stop rocket attacks.

Salem al-Meslet, spokesman of the High Negotiations Committee, talked to the press in Geneva [Basma Atassi/Al Jazeera]

Salem al-Meslet, spokesman of the High Negotiations Committee, talked to the press in Geneva

Syria’s main opposition bloc is holding its first meeting with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura in Geneva, ahead of talks aimed at ending the war.

“We’re optimistic and we are here to really find a solution for all Syrians no matter what side they are on,” Salem al-Meslet, spokesman for the High National Committee (HNC), told reporters on Sunday.

“We wish to see food reaching the starving to death to the women and children. We want to see the women released from the regime’s prisons.”

Representatives of Saudi Arabia-based group HNC landed in the Swiss city late on Saturday, a day after a delegation representing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad arrived and held preliminary talks with de Mistura.

HNC is threatening to pull out of the UN-sponsored peace talks if what it called the “crimes” of Assad’s government persisted.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Geneva late on Saturday, Meslet said: “We want the peace talks to work, but there is no seriousness on the part of the regime.”

Meslet said that the HNC would discuss with de Mistura on Sunday its conditions for joining the negotiations, which include the government agreeing to lift sieges on opposition-held areas and stop shelling them and agreeing to release prisoners.

Opposition spokesperson Salem al-Meslet said the opposition would leave Geneva if its demands were not met

“The priority is to lift the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said. “If we see an implementation of these demands, including allowing trucks of aid into besieged areas, we will consider this as a sign of good will.”

HNC coordinator Riad Hijab, who did not travel to Geneva, said in an Arabic statement posted online that “if the regime insists on continuing to commit these crimes, then the HNC delegation’s presence in Geneva will not be justified.”

“The delegation will inform de Mistura of its intentions to withdraw its negotiating team if the UN and world powers are unable to stop these violations,” Hijab wrote.
Monzer Makhous, a member of the Syrian opposition delegation, said: “We are here to test the intentions of the regime … We do not have assurances, we have promises”.

The proposed intra-Syrian talks are part of a peace plan set out in November by external powers embroiled in the five-year-old conflict, some on different sides.

The process envisions elections within 18 months but leaves unresolved the future of Assad, whose government has been making gains on the ground since Russia began supporting it with air strikes since last September.

Another thorny issue is which rebel groups will be involved in the talks, though all sides agree on the exclusion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra Front, which is seen as allied with al-Qaeda.

Syrian chief negotiator Bashar Jaafari [R] held talks with UN envoy de Mistura on Friday

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was quoted by the country’s Interfax news agency as saying that there would be no face-to-face negotiations, only so-called “proximity talks” in which the sides gather in separate rooms at the same venue with mediators shuttling between them.

The talks are the first since two rounds of negotiations collapsed in 2014. Syria’s conflict has killed more than 250,000 people, displaced millions and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing as refugees to Europe.

Air strikes and starvation

As the delicate process unfolded in Switzerland, there was no let-up in fighting in Syria. On Saturday, at least 15 people were killed and dozens wounded in suspected Russian air strikes targeting rebels near the northern city of Aleppo.

In the west of the country, opposition fighters said they had taken control of several checkpoints around the city of Hama, which is in a region where control is divided between government and opposition fighters.

Further south, residents of the besieged town of Madaya continued to die of starvation and a lack of medical supplies, despite the delivery of aid earlier this month, according to the Doctors without Borders (MSF) aid group.


READ MORE: Syrians are still starving to death


MSF said on Saturday that at least 16 people – close to one person per day – have died since three aid convoys entered the town, near the Lebanese border 40km northwest of the capital Damascus, on January 11.

The group said that an estimated 320 people in Madaya were suffering from malnutrition, 33 of whom were “in danger of death if they do not receive prompt and effective treatment”.

(Source / 31.01.2016)

Opposition’s HNC to Join Geneva Talks after Receiving Assurances from UN

The Syrian opposition’s High Negotiation Committee (HNC) announced late Friday that it would join the Geneva talks after receiving “UN assurances.” The HNC added it would “take part in the political process to test the seriousness of the other side through discussions with the UN team.”

In a statement released on Friday, the HNC stressed that its decision to take part in the Geneva talks “was deigned to help implement international commitments and meet humanitarian demands as a prelude to the negotiating process as well as to bring about a transitional process through the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers.”

The statement pointed out that “the decision to participate was made after the HNC received support from friendly and sister countries, especially during a meeting held yesterday between the committee and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir who made it clear Saudi Arabia supported the HNC’s decisions.”

The HNC also said that “the decision was made after reaffirmations by the US Secretary of State John Kerry about his country’s support for the full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, especially with regard to the humanitarian issues. UNSCR 2254 resolution calls for ending the blockades, releasing detainees, and immediate cessation of indiscriminate bombing of civilians.”

The statement made it clear that “Kerry reiterated his country’s support for bringing about a political transition in Syria through the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers in accordance with the Geneva Communiqué of 2012.”

The HNC emphasized that its decision to participate in the Geneva talks “was based on the support it received from a number of foreign ministers of sister and friendly countries in addition to a letter from the United nations Secretary-General who reaffirmed support for the implementation of humanitarian commitments, particularly Articles 12 and 13 of UNSCR 2254.”

The statement concluded noting that the decision to participate “was also based on a response from the UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura” to a letter the HNC sent earlier.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 30.01.2016)

ROJAVA UPDATE 179: KURDS RETALIATE AGAINST BOMBARDMENT FROM THE ISLAMIC STATE IN JARABLOUS AND ASSAD REGIME BARREL-BOMBS KURDISH DISTRICT IN ALEPPO:

By Peter Clifford         ©              (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-and-iraq-news/)

SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS

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As the Kurds across Rojava celebrated the first anniversary this week of their victory over the Islamic State (IS) at Kobane in January 2015, YPG units launched an attack on IS positions in Jarablous west of the Euphrates.

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Kurdish Forces on the Move to Jarablous?

Attacking from the western countryside of Kobane Canton, the YPG bombed the IS-held town with artillery shells and mortars.

According to reports the YPG assault hit an IS security centre, several IS vehicles and a Sharia Court building, as well as killing 21 x IS Jihadists.

Jarablous, which is thought to be a main route for IS recruits and supplies entering Syria from Turkey is a major target of the YPG, despite Turkey’s objections to a Kurdish presence along a 100 kilometre stretch of the Aleppo/Turkey border, currently controlled by IS.

The US has been requesting Turkey to secure this border against IS infiltration for months but the Turkish authorities, who tend to support Islamist groups, have failed to act effectively.

Strong reports persist the the Syrian Democratic Force, consisting of the YPG and Arab, Turkman and Assyrian Christian units, is about to launch a major campaign in Aleppo province to take Manbij and Jarablous away from IS control.

It is also expected to target Azaz which is held by various Opposition brigades, but which from where the Islamist Al Nusra Front threatens the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

Separately, Assad and his Russian allies are closing in on IS-held Al-Bab, 50 kilometres south-west of Manbij.

Other reports from Jarablous say that Sharia officials brutally beat 30 women there on Wednesday evening in the central market, before arresting them on charges of violating the IS dress-code.

The women are expected to be flogged with 50 lashes in a public display before being released.

By contrast, a number of Kurdish women journalists have launched their own radio station in Hasakah province broadcasting programmes in both Arabic and Kurdish and specialising on topics relevant to the full role of women in society (English sub-titles) here,

In the north-western countryside of Raqqah province this week, IS fired a number of missiles into Ain Issa, though no heavy casualties have so far reported.

Also for the first time, the Assad regime targeted Sheikh Maqsoud, the Kurdish neighbourhood of Aleppo, with barrel-bombs this week. 5 civilians were killed, including 2 children and nine people were injured. 3 of the barrel-bombs hit a crowded market place.

US Central Command (Centcom) reports 10 airstrikes in Syria yesterday, Thursday, one hitting an IS tactical unit and a checkpoint near Hasakah, one hitting an IS oil and gas separation plant near Raqqah and 2 strikes near Manbij hitting 2 separate tactical units and destroying an IS building.

A further 5 strikes near Ma’ra in Aleppo province (probably in support of the SDF) hit 4 separate IS tactical units, destroyed 2 x IS fighting positions and disabled an IS vehicle. The tenth strike on Thursday hit an IED explosive manufacturing area in Palmyra in Homs province.

Over in Iraq on Thursday there were 14 airstrikes across the country, all with similar targets to those in Syria.

One of the Coalition’s airstrikes on Thursday evening in Iraq is reported to have killed the Islamic State’s supposed “minister of war”, Jalal Hamdan Al-Naama. The Coalition monitored a convoy which was taking senior IS members to a meeting in a building near Mosul and once everyone was inside, they destroyed it.

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Mosul Dam – A Catastrophe Waiting to Happen?

Around 20 x IS Jihadists are believed to have been killed in the operation on the building in the Al- Hadra suburb of Mosul city.

3 senior IS members in charge of security and finance were also reported killed on Wednesday near Tikrit in another Coalition raid.

The US military has also expressed concern over the state of Mosul Dam which has suffered from poor maintenance for a long time.

U.S. Army Lieutenant, General Sean MacFarland, said on Thursday that he had been working with the Iraqi government on a plan to protect civilians should the dam collapse when snow melt water fills the lake behind the dam in early Spring.

A collapse of the dam would send a surge of water down the heavily populated Tigris river valley. The dam was held for some time by IS but was later recaptured by the Kurdish Peshmerga.

An Italian company is negotiating with the Iraqi Government to sign a contract to reinforce the dam. Hopefully this will not be too late as a complete collapse would be catastrophic.

Latest reports from Europe say that the Dutch Parliament has agreed for its military to send jets to join the Coalition strike force in Syria.  Further details awaited.

Hijab: De Mistura Adopting Russian-Iranian Agenda, Needs to Force Assad to Stop Killings

Riad Hijab, the general coordinator of the opposition’s High Negotiation Committee (HNC), has doubted the United Nations’ ability to bring about a political transition in Syria. Hijab said the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura is no more calling for the formation of a transitional governing body, but adopting an agenda espoused by Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime.

Hijab went on to say that de Mistura’s message to stop the killings in Syria should have been addressed to the Assad regime.

“We are anticipating positive steps to be taken before we take a final decision about participation in the Geneva III conference. We will not enter the negotiating room before the humanitarian demands are met or if there is a third party at the negotiations,” Hijab said.

Hijab said that US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated Washington’s opposition to giving any role for Assad in Syria’s future.

“Assad does not believe in the political process and does not want a political solution to the conflict, but it is procrastinating in order to crush the revolution and save his regime,” he added.

Hijab stressed the need for lifting sieges and stopping barrel bomb attacks as confidence-building measures before the launch of the negotiations. “Civilians in Syria are still trapped and starving to death despite the fact that UN Security Council resolution 2254 called for lifting sieges and stopping the bombardment of civilians immediately,” Hijab added.
(Source: Syrian Coalition / 29.01.2016)

UN envoy meets Assad representatives in Geneva peace talks

A camerawoman films the Globe outside of the United Nations Offices on the opening day of peace talks on Syria, January 29, 2016, Geneva, Switzerland. (AFP photo)

A camerawoman films the Globe outside of the United Nations Offices on the opening day of peace talks on Syria, January 29, 2016, Geneva, Switzerland

The UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has met representatives of President Bashar al-Assad in Geneva at the start of UN-mandated peace talks. 

The Syrian government delegation to the talks is headed by the country’s ambassador to the United Nations Bashar al-Ja’afari.

There had been speculations that the highly anticipated talks could be delayed due to objections raised by some groups fighting against the government of President Assad.

Some opposition groups on Friday said they will stay away from the talks as their demand had been ignored by the UN.

Basma Kodmani, a member of the opposition’s negotiating team, said they are still waiting for a response from the UN on demands such as lifting the siege on militant-held areas and an end to the aerial campaign by Russian and Syrian warplanes.

The Russian Air Force has been engaged in combat sorties against the positions of the Takfiri Daesh terrorists in Syria since September 30, 2015, upon a request from Damascus.

On January 25, de Mistura said in a briefing with reporters that no precondition will be accepted ahead of the negotiations, adding that the warring sides of the conflict should not miss the great opportunity of negotiations in Geneva.

De Mistura’s statement on Friday reiterated that the fresh round of talks will be, as declared before, in form of “proximity talks” with no direct meetings planned between the government and representatives of the foreign-backed opposition.

(Source / 29.01.2016)

Riyad Hijab: Syrian Opposition Delegation Will Not Join Geneva Before Assurances From The International Community

Riyad Hijab: Syrian opposition delegation will not join Geneva before assurances from the international community

Gaziantep (Qasioun) – “Riyad Hijab” The General Coordinator Of The High Negotiations Committee Followed To The Syrian Opposition Forces Have Said On Thursday That The Delegation Will Not Enter The Negotiations’ Room Without Achieving Their Demands, Pointing That “If There Is No Achievement For Fighting Matter, We Will Not Make Any Achievement In Negotiations”

Hijab Added “It Was Better For Di Mestura To Send A Message To Bashar Al-Assad To Stop Killing, Pointing That Some Of Those Who Joins The Negotiations, Were Invited By Di Mistura As Consultants For Him.

Syria Opposition Puts Off Peace Talks Decision Until Friday

Syrian Opposition Members Meeting In Riyadh Have Postponed Until Friday A Decision On Whether To Attend Peace Talks Due To Start In Geneva The Same Day, Delegates Said.

“I Believe Tomorrow We Will Take A Decision” On Whether Or Not To Attend The UN-Brokered Negotiations, Said One Delegate From The Saudi-Backed High Negotiations Committee.

“We Will Not Be In Geneva Tomorrow,” Said Another Opposition Source.

The Committee Was Formed In December When The Main Syrian Political Opposition And Armed Factions Came Together In Riyadh For An Unprecedented Bid At Unity, After Months Of Saudi Effort.

It Insists That It Is The Sole Permitted Representative Of Syria’s Opposition, Despite Objections From Others.

The Committee Has Met For Three Days In The Saudi Capital To Discuss Whether Or Not To Participate In The Geneva Process.

It Had Said It Was Waiting For UN “Clarifications” After The UN Issued Invitations To Other Opposition Figures.

But Delegate Monzer Makhos Told AFP That Members “Would Not Be There” In Geneva For The Planned Start Of Talks “As We Have Yet To Make A Decision”.

The Committee Wants Assurances From The International Community That It Will Move To End Regime Attacks On Civilians And Allow Humanitarian Aid.

The Riyadh Discussions Were To Resume At 0600 GMT On Friday, The Delegate Said.

Khawla Mattar, Spokeswoman For The UN-Mediated Talks Between The Syrian Government And Opposition, Said Thursday There Would Be “No Postponement From Our Side”.

(Source / 28.01.2016)

Nine Civilians Killed in Regime Airstrikes on Rural Homs Today

Activists in Homs said that the Assad regime’s air force intensified aerial bombardment on northern rural Homs earlier today, leaving dozens of civilian casualties and causing massive destruction in the area.

Activists in the area said that one of the airstrikes targeted the town of Al-Ghanto in the early hours of Thursday, killing nine civilians and wounding many more, including women and children.

Other airstrikes also hit the towns of Rastan and Talbeesah, with reports of civilian casualties and massive destruction in the residential neighborhoods.

The escalating aerial bombardment on northern rural Homs coincided with ground attacks by regime forces seeking to encircle the area, particularly the Al-Houla area, and cut the rebels’ last supply lines. Northern rural Homs already suffers from lack of food and medical supplies as a result of the regime’s blockade of most of the roads leading to the area.

Meanwhile, clashes resumed today between regime forces and rebel fighters on the fronts of Um Sharshouh, Talbeesah and Rastan, amid renewed attempts by regime forces to advance on the town of Harbnafsah and complete the encirclement of Al-Houla.
(Source: Syrian Coalition / 28.01.2016)