After a day of formal speeches set to be followed this week by talks involving the two sides, UN leader Ban Ki-moon urged Syria’s regime and opposition to finally work together to end the bloodshed.
“Our purpose was to send a message to the two Syrian delegations and to the Syrian people that the world wants an urgent end to the conflict,” Ban said in a closing press conference at the talks in the Swiss town of Montreux.
“Enough is enough, the time has to come to negotiate,” Ban said. “We must seize this fragile chance.”
But official statements made by the delegations Wednesday gave no hint of compromise, as the two sides met on the shores of Lake Geneva for the first time since the start of the conflict in March 2011.
Branding the opposition “traitors” and foreign agents, Syrian officials insisted Assad will not give up power, while the opposition said he must step down and face trial.
“Assad will not go,” Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said on the sidelines of the conference.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem wasted no time firing a broadside at the opposition in his opening speech, which went on long beyond the allotted time of less than 10 minutes, forcing Ban to repeatedly ask him to wrap it up.
“They (the opposition) claim to represent the Syrian people. If you want to speak in the name of the Syrian people, you should not be traitors to the Syrian people, agents in the pay of enemies of the Syrian people,” Muallem said.
Ahmad Jarba, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, called on the regime to “immediately” sign a deal reached at the last peace conference in Geneva in 2012 setting out “the transfer of powers from Assad, including for the army and security, to a transition government.”
He said that would be “the preamble to Bashar al-Assad’s resignation and his trial alongside all the criminals of his regime.”
‘Terrorist crimes in Syria’
Syrian state television broadcast Jarba’s speech in a split screen alongside footage of death and destruction under the heading “Terrorist Crimes in Syria”.
Leading a series of sharp US accusations against the Syrian regime, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Assad cannot be part of any transitional government.
“There is no way, not possible in the imagination, that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain legitimacy to govern,” Kerry said.
US officials also slammed the Syrian delegation for its incendiary remarks and claims of improved aid access as “laughable”.
Damascus ‘chose inflammatory rhetoric’
“Instead of laying out a positive vision for the future of Syria that is diverse, inclusive and respectful of the rights of all, the Syrian regime chose inflammatory rhetoric,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Expectations are very low for a major breakthrough at the conference, but diplomats gathered here believe that simply bringing the two sides together for the first time is a mark of some progress and could be an important first step.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the talks will “not be simple, they will not be quick” but urged both sides to seize a “historic opportunity”.
About 40 nations and international groups were gathered, but no direct talks are expected until possibly Friday — when opposition and regime delegations will meet in Geneva for negotiations that officials have said could last seven to 10 days.
The UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, told the closing press conference he would meet on Thursday with both sides to discuss the next step in negotiations.
“Tomorrow I am going to meet them separately and see how best we can move forward,” Brahimi said.
“Do we go straight into one room and start discussing or do we talk a little bit more separately?… I don’t know yet.”
Erupting after the regime cracked down on protests inspired by the Arab Spring, the civil war has claimed more than 130,000 lives and forced millions from the homes.
Recent months have seen the conflict settle into a brutal stalemate — with the death toll rising but neither side making decisive gains.
With no one ready for serious concessions, world powers will be looking for short-term deals to keep the process moving forward, including on localised ceasefires, freer humanitarian access and prisoner exchanges.
Notably absent from the table was crucial Assad backer Iran, after Ban reversed a last-minute invitation when the opposition said it would boycott if Tehran took part.
Pitting Assad’s regime, dominated by the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam, against largely Sunni Muslim rebels, the conflict has unsettled large parts of the Middle East.
There were stark reminders of the conflict’s impact in the run-up to the talks, with continued fighting on the ground and new evidence in a report alleging that Assad’s forces have systematically killed and tortured 11,000 people.
The opposition called at the conference for an international inquiry into the allegations.
“We have to stop this spiral of violence. We do call for an international inspection to visit places of detention and see the facts of torture that our citizens face every day,” Jarba said.
Eyewitnesses told Ma’an that clashes began after Israeli soldiers positioned themselves in front of the main entrance to the university and began stopping students and asking for their identity cards.
Israeli forces then began firing multiple tear gas canisters onto the campus, causing students to retaliate by throwing stones.
Soldiers then breached the perimeter of the university campus and continued to fire tear gas and rubber bullets at students.
Witnesses said Israeli forces in full riot gear were seen on campus and the Red Crescent set up an area to treat wounded students.
“This is more major than anything last year or the year before,” a witness told Ma’an, adding that the only way to leave the university was to cross the line of fire of Israeli soldiers.
A popular committee spokesman told Ma’an that over 100 Palestinians, including university students, faculty, and staff, suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation.
Others were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets, said Hani Halabiya.
Israeli soldiers entered the university through the main gate and threatened campus guards, Halabiya said.
They remained in the university for two hours, not allowing those inside to leave, he added.
The Abu Dis campus of Al-Quds University was the site of frequent raids in 2013, often leading to closures and delays in lectures.
Dozens of students have been injured in the raids and university property has been damaged.
Government Media Office-Gaza
Palestinian Government in Gaza held its weekly meeting No (320) and concluded with the following political statement:
The government reiterates its dismissive position on the pressure being exerted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the Palestinian negotiators to pass his principles, as they detract from Palestinian rights and justify Israel’s colonial settlements; it demands the Palestinian Authority to withdraw from the negotiations.
The Al–Quds (Jerusalem) Committee Decisions:
Government welcomes the decisions of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Al-Quds Committee that support the steadfastness of Jerusalem people; however, it deems them insufficient and calls for translating them into real actions because Jerusalem is in danger.
Palestinian Government salutes the steadfast prisoners behind bars, and demands international community to put pressure on the Israeli occupation to stop his repressive practices against them; it affirms its backing of all events and advocacy campaigns in support of their issue.
Palestinian Government denounces continuing, unjustified Israeli escalation against the Gaza Strip. It holds the occupation responsible for the killing and wounding of civilians and emphasizes the right of the resistance movements to defend their people. The government demands the Israeli occupation to commit to cease-fire agreement terms and stop border incursions and extrajudicial assassinations.
The Arab Parliament:
Palestinian Government appreciates the Arab Inter-parliamentary Union’s decision to form a delegation to visit the member states of the Security Council, the European Parliament and the Vatican to explain Israel’s repeated transgressions against Islamic and Christian sanctities in Jerusalem. It stresses the need that Arab governments and parliaments backs Palestinian people’s resistance and his historical rights.
Yarmouk Refugee Camp:
Government reiterates the call for continuing to neutralize the Yarmouk refugee camp from the furnace of the conflict in Syria and lift the siege imposed on it since nearly 8 months leading to dozens of deaths. The government calls for all concerned parties to shoulder the responsibilities for getting humanitarian assistance and baby milk into the camp and to put an end to the starvation crime that claimed the lives of more than 47 children and elders so far.
West Bank Political Imprisonment:
Palestinian Government deplores the rising cases of political arrests in the West Bank, given that 2013 saw more than 720 arrests of political parties’ members especially from Hamas, as more than 14 students were arrested the past week only. This contradicts with the good-will gestures made by the government in Gaza, aimed at building trust and paving the way for Palestinian reconciliation. The government calls for the West Bank leadership to turn the schism page and practically respond to the call for a Palestinian unity deal that put an end to this obnoxious division.
The UN Secretary-General ’s Remarks:
Palestinian Government acclaims the remarks of Mr Ban Ki -moon affirming the illegality of any actions taken by the Israeli occupation authorities to change the historical landmarks of Jerusalem City, and calls for firmer stances on the frequent Israeli violations against the holy site.
Mounting Egyptian Media Defamation Campaign against Gaza:
Palestinian Government denounces the continued hectic media campaign launched by Egyptian media against the Gaza Strip, which are based only on a bunch of lies and inconsiderate allegations, and calls on the Egyptian authorities to rein in this campaign, which does only serve the Israeli occupation’s interests.
(Source / 22.01.2014)
Illegal Jewish settlers have uprooted more than 800 olive saplings on land belonging to the village of Sinjel near Ramallah. Mayor Ayoub Swedan told Palestine’s official Wafa news agency that villagers woke on Wednesday morning and discovered the destruction. All of the saplings were stolen by the Israeli settlers.
Swedan said that the trees were donated by the International Committee of the Red Cross which has funded a project to rehabilitate the villagers’ land. More than 200 acres of farmland was damaged by the Israelis.
(Source / 22.01.2014)
By Jamal Kanj
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon articulated publicly what Israeli leaders say privately: Give us your tax money, weapons and your veto power but “leave us alone.”
He called the US peace efforts “not worth the paper it is printed on,” and accusing US Secretary of State John Kerry of being a glory hound “messianic” and “inexplicably obsessive.”
His statement – likely with the tacit approval of Israeli prime minister – was quintessential Israeli tactics to publicly influence American policy, and it did.
Receiving the message loud and clear, Kerry cancelled a visit scheduled this week to the region. Failing to commit the Israelis on a written framework agreement, his aides are already talking about extending the negotiation past the April deadline.
Each of Kerry’s visits was greeted by an Israeli policy decision to undermine his efforts. Since last July it has authorised building 7,500 “Jewish only” homes on occupied West Bank and demolished 200 Palestinian residences. A ministerial committee led by the governing Likud party has overwhelmingly voted to annex the occupied Jordan valley.
Still, the administration wants to give Israel more time to add to its annexation’s menu. This is while it ludicrously claims to be impartial mediator when it empowers Israel, materially and diplomatically, to indulge in activities violating international law.
If one thing is very clear from past American diplomacy, the current efforts will most likely deliver on Israeli demands upfront, while suspending Palestinians’ concerns for a later date. At the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation recognised Israel over 78 per cent of historical Palestine while Palestinians were promised to negotiate a “five-year transitional period” for the remaining 22pc.
Almost 10 years later, president George Bush’s road map for peace called for “permanent status agreement” by 2005. To address one of Israel’s 14 reservations, Bush sent then prime minister Ariel Sharon a letter adopting one Israeli reservation – undermining his own plan – stating it would be “unrealistic … of final status negotiations” to result in the return to the 1967 borders.
At the road map’s onset, Israel “legitimised” its illegal “Jewish only” colonies, while Palestinians were promised an elusive future “agreement by 2005.”
During his last visit, Israeli prime minister privately asked Kerry to annex additional 18pc of the West Bank as a “realistic” adjustment to the 1967 borders. Irrespective of Israel’s “forthcoming” obligations causing Yaalon’s anger outburst, Kerry – violating the mediator’s role – has told the Palestinians that recognising Israel as a racialist “Jewish state” was an American demand. Imagine if he publicly opined that compliance with UN resolutions were the bases of his impending framework. Israel will certainly cry louder accusing him of prejudging the negotiation.
Years after Kerry delivers another advanced instalment or extends the endless negotiation, Israel is unlikely to have ceased building illegal colonies. Meanwhile, the overdue promises to Palestinians will join the grave side with those from the Oslo Accord and Road Map. That, until a new US administration comes up with a fresh proposal requesting Palestinians, again, to comply with – yet to be conjured – Israeli condition in return for further suspended promises.
Sadly, the Palestinian government is almost totally dependent on US and European largess – a fraction of what Arab governments spend on the fratricide fight in Syria. This is while American policies are emboldening an Israeli occupation responsible for perpetuating the state of the foreign aid dependent Palestinian economy.
Palestinian leadership should not regurgitate a new xenophobic recognition of Israel in exchange for another American mirage. They should not entertain extending the amaranthine negotiation and demand an immediate US recognition of Palestine or else, a bi-national state is the only remaining realistic option.
“We have to stop this spiral of violence. We do call for an international inspection to visit places of detention and see the facts of torture that our citizens face every day,” Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba told the end of the first day of a landmark peace conference in Switzerland.
“We must work together for a Syria, which will be a pluralist country excluding no one, not excluding any ethnicity Alawites, Druze, Christians and others,” Jarba told world leaders gathered in the Swiss city of Montreux.
“We have suffered enough from the murders, the bombardments and this bloodshed has continued for far too long.”
He was speaking after the publication of a report alleging the “industrial-scale” torture and murder of 11,000 detainees by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The report put together by a British law firm and commissioned by Qatar — which backs the Syrian rebels — says there is “clear evidence” of the starvation, strangulation and beating of detainees in Syrian prisons.
It is based on forensic analysis of a portion of 55,000 digital images smuggled out of Syria by a defector who said he served as a police photographer, documenting as many as 50 bodies a day.
The photos in the report are gruesome, showing emaciated and seriously injured detainees, and US Secretary of State John Kerry said they “raised questions that require an answer.”
Washington joined with the opposition in “demanding a thorough investigation,” Kerry added.
Syria denies torturing detainees, and the nation’s ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari told reporters in Montreux that the photos had been faked in Kuwait.
But Jarba urged the leaders: “We have to open the way to negotiations to put an end to the drama being faced by Syrian people and we have to ensure that very soon we’ll have a state of law based on equality between all citizens in Syria, without any discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity.”
The group of children opened the donation boxes they used in public after a week of fundraising in Nablus.
Nablus governor Jibril al-Bakri praised the actions of the children on behalf of the Yarmouk camp. Al-Bakri thanked individuals and groups who helped organize the campaign.
Several attempts to deliver aid to Yarmouk camp have been thwarted in recent weeks due to rigorous fighting within and around the camp.
At least four Palestinians were killed in the camp on Thursday after government helicopters dropped a barrel bomb on it, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Militants say at least seven Palestinians refugees died in the attack.
At least 50 people have died due to food and medicine shortages in the camp in recent months, according to the Observatory.
After rebels seized control of Yarmouk in December 2012, the camp became embroiled in the armed fighting taking place across Syria and came under heavy regime assault.
Regime forces eventually encircled the camp and in July imposed a siege on the camp, leading to a rapid deterioration of living conditions.
Israeli forces have launched another airstrike on the blockaded Gaza Strip, with initial reports indicating there have been at least two deaths.
In the attack, which occurred in the wee hours of Wednesday, an Israeli fighter jet targeted a vehicle in the city of Beit Hanoun in northeast Gaza.
Residents and medics in Beit Hanoun said the strike killed two members of Islamic Jihad resistance group.
According to eyewitnesses, the men were sitting in the parked car when the missile fired from the aircraft hit it.
The attack happened hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to attack Gaza.
He promised to teach the Hamas government in the coastal enclave a lesson following an earlier rocket attack on an Israeli target.
The Hamas government has already deployed forces in Gaza to preserve a 2012 ceasefire.
Tel Aviv says the onslaught was in retaliation to rocket attacks. Israel has been pounding Gaza despite the Egyptian-mediated truce that ended Israel’s deadly eight-day war on the coastal enclave.
Gaza has been blockaded since June 2007, a situation that has caused a decline in the standard of living, unprecedented levels of unemployment, and unrelenting poverty.
The apartheid regime of Israel denies about 1.7 million people in Gaza their basic rights, such as freedom of movement, jobs that pay proper wages, and adequate healthcare and education.
In 2011, a UN panel found that Israel’s blockade has subjected Gazans to collective punishment, which is “in flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.” But Israel has ignored repeated international pleas to lift the blockade.
(Source / 22.01.2014)
Fighting raged across much of Syria as regime and opposition delegates attended the international peace conference aimed at ending a nearly three-year civil war that has claimed more than 130,000 lives.
“Two men, three women and five children were killed when a missile — believed to be a surface-to-surface missile — hit the Maasraniyeh area of Aleppo city,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group.
Once Syria’s commercial capital, Aleppo has been the scene of intense fighting since a rebel offensive there in July 2012.
In the middle of December President Bashar Assad’s regime launched a massive aerial campaign in which it dropped barrels filled with explosives on residential areas, killing hundreds of people and drawing widespread condemnation.
Elsewhere in Aleppo, rebels and regime forces clashes as the army tried to advance on the Aziziyeh neighborhood and a nearby industrial area.
“The army is trying to take advantage of the fact the rebels are also fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), to try to advance on Aleppo,” said Abu Omar, an activist in the province.
While rebels fighting Assad’s troops initially welcomed jihadists in Syria, they launched a major offensive against them earlier this month, after ISIL’s quest for hegemony and abuses angered much of the rest of the opposition.
In Darkush, in the northern Idlib province, fresh clashes broke out between ISIL and other rebel groups, and a child was killed in the crossfire, said the Observatory.
Further south, Assad’s forces shelled rebel positions in the Saydnaya area near Damascus, while fighting in Zabadani nearby killed at least 10 soldiers, including three officers, according to the Observatory.
Regime helicopters meanwhile dropped highly destructive so-called barrel bombs in the central Hama province, said the group, that relies on a network of activists and other witnesses inside the country.
The use of barrel bombs has been widely condemned by rights groups because such weapons fail to distinguish between fighters and civilians.
In Homs, where rebel-held areas have been under siege for nearly 600 days, troops shelled the contested Waar neighborhood, home to thousands of people who have fled their homes in other parts of the city.
“The situation on the ground has not changed at all despite the talks opening in Switzerland. All the main frontlines are still extremely violent, just like yesterday,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.