By Peter Clifford © (http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3)
After 2 days of agonising the Opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) meeting in Istnabul finally agreed on Saturday to send a delegation to the “peace talks” known as Geneva 2, scheduled in Montreux, Switzerland for later this week starting on Wednesday.
SNC Votes to Go to Geneva – Now in Doubt
In a secret vote their participation was agreed with 58 votes for, 14 against, 2 abstentions and one blank vote according to an official tally. 40 other members of the Coalition, notably from the Syrian National Council, had already refused to take part in the vote at all.
However, following an invitation given yesterday by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to Iran to attend the talks, SNC participation is once again this morning, Monday, in doubt.
The US, France and UK all also appear shocked at the UN General Secretary’s move, saying the Iran has yet to sign up to the direction agreed at Geneva 1 and the stated aim of Geneva 2, “the establishment of a transitional government in Syria with full executive powers”.
Ban Ki-Moon said on Sunday that after talks with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran had agreed to play a “positive and constructive role” in efforts to end Syria’s worsening three-year civil war.
France’s Minister, Laurent Fabius, said “It is obvious that no country can take part in the conference unless it expressly accepts its mandate.”
The US has said that unless Iran explicitly declares its support of a June 2012 plan for a political transition, meaning Assad would have to step down, then “the invitation must be rescinded”.
Louay Safi, an SNC spokesman also wrote in a Tweet: “The Syrian Coalition announces that they will withdraw their attendance in G2 unless Ban Ki-moon retracts Iran’s invitation.”
Predictably, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, today said the absence of Iran from this week’s peace talks on the Syrian crisis would be an “unforgivable mistake”.
Ban Ki-Moon’s “get out clause” may be that he has invited Iran and 10 other countries to attend the talks in Montreux on 22nd January.
The actual direct talks between the Syrian Opposition and the Syrian Government do not begin until the 24th January when the discussions move to Geneva (which was not available earlier because all hotel accomodation was booked out for a “watch fair”). Al Jazeera has a video report, HERE:
Latest reports Monday afternoon now say that the SNC has given Ban Ki-Moon until 19.00 GMT this evening to rescind his invitation to Iran or they will refuse to attend.
ASSAD STOKES DISSENT BY REPEATING HE IS READY TO STAND FOR RE-ELECTION AND CALLS THE OPPOSITION “A JOKE”:
President Assad has stoked the fire of dissent himself in a 45 minute interview with AFP which was recorded yesterday, Sunday, and released in full this morning.
Assad With Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi
In the interview, Assad states that if “public opinion in favour of my candidacy, I will not hesitate for a second to run for election. In short, we can say that the chances for my candidacy are significant.”
Assad dismissed sharing power with the Opposition and made jokes about their effectiveness saying, “Last year, they [the Opposition] claimed that they had control of 70 percent of Syria, yet they didn’t even dare to come to the areas that they had supposed control of”.
They “come to the border for a 30-minute photo opportunity and then they flee. How can they be ministers in the government? These propositions are totally unrealistic, but they do make a good joke!”
Once again he described the Geneva 2 conference as producing “clear results with regard to the fight against terrorism in Syria” and described all of the Opposition forces as “one extremist terrorist group comprising various factions.” He also accused France of being a “proxy state” for Qatar and Saudi Arabia. You can read more of the interview, HERE:
Meanwhile, on the ground, the Assad regime continued its merciless bombardment of civilian areas, though in the interview above Assad himself cynically claimed that “The army does not shell neighbourhoods. The army strikes areas where there are terrorists.”
The latest deaths came in the Al-Mayser district of Aleppo where a barrel-bomb attack on Saturday killed 23 people ( including 5 children and a teenager). There is video footage of severe damage to the area, HERE:
There are also reports that regime forces have advanced into the south-eastern district of Aleppo at Sheikh Lutfi, not far from the International Airport but retreated from Tall Sabayn in eastern rural Aleppo, just south-west of Quwaires airbase, after clashes with Opposition fighters
Most of the rest of the fighting in Aleppo province is between moderate/Islamic fighters and the extreme Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
Continuing clashes between the 2 Opposition sides are reported to the north of Aleppo city in suburb of Hayyan, while the moderates are claiming that they have driven ISIL out of the whole of western Aleppo countryside.
The moderates also say that they have wrested back control of a stretch of the Aleppo – Damascus road in south-western Aleppo from ISIL and taken over an amusement park, formerly under the Jihadist control, near the Zahraa military base, HERE:
To the north-east of Aleppo city there have also been violent clashes between moderate Opposition fighters led by the Islamic Front, and ISIL, leading to at least 20 dead, including children, at Manbej. The latest reports say that the moderates have captured an ISIL position at the mills along the eastern entrance to the town.
A good article, from Charles Lister, analysing the anti-Jihadist Opposition revolt, can be read, HERE:
Map of Current Situation in Syria
SOME RELIEF AT LAST COMES TO YARMOUK CAMP BUT IS IT JUST PART OF AN ASSAD REGIME PLOY TO APPEAR MORE “ACCEPTABLE”? :
In Homs province 12 people ( including 2 women and a child ) were killed following a regime bombardment on Rastan and there are fears that a massed Assad force of at least 7,000 is about to break into Krak des Chevaliers, site of an ancient Crusader fort, where around 23,000, mostly civilians, still remain.
In Raqqah province there have been violent clashes between ISIL and regime forces at Base 17, but ISIL have also been accused of raiding Red Cross warehouses in Raqqah city and removing humanitarian supplies over the weekend.
The Cost of Geneva 2
In Deraa, there has been fierce fighting between the Opposition and regime troops in the eastern district of Deraa city, Al-Manshiyah, and the Opposition have also shelled Government positions at the military security branch and the 132nd brigade, just to the north of there.
In Damascus, some help has finally arrived for the besieged Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp, where 57 people are reported to have died from malnutrition and lack of medical care.
The first boxes of supplies got in on Saturday, organised by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Red Cross/Red Crescent, and the first of those critically injured were removed on Sunday.
The aid agencies hope to remove 600 critically ill people over the next few days and bring in hundreds more packages of supplies.
The breaking of the siege of Yarmouk comes days before the start of the Geneva 2 conference and some might say that this, along with several other negotiated ceasefires around Damascus, is a cynical ploy by the Assad regime to appear to be “caring” of its citizens and “administering to their needs” – instead of killing dozens of them daily.
This article suggests some of the agreed ceasefires – food for arms – have not at all been what they were implied to be and the regime takes advantage wherever it can, manipulating the hunger needs of the starving to get what it wants, HERE:
In other neighbourhoods of the capital, the regime has kept up its barrage of shells, mortars and air attacks, but according to this video the Opposition successfully downed a military transport plane approaching Damascus International Airport using an OSA guided missile system, HERE:
There are also reports today, Monday, that 15 or more members of the Islamic Front have been killed in battles with regime forces in the Damascus province town of Sednaya but that Opposition fighters have blown up a regime truck in the desert to the north-east of the capital at Qaryatayn killing 30 soldiers.
For All Prisoners of Conscience in Syria