Breakthrough in Syria peace talks seems most unlikely
The opposition repeated its demand Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down
1 December, 2017
Bashar al-Jaafari (2-L), Syrian government delegation's chief and Syria's ambassador to the UN joins the talks.
Nasr al-Hariri (R), head of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC), the newly-unified Syrian opposition delegation.
Children play on a destroyed house next to the ruins of a mosque in al-Nashabieh City, Syria, 28 November.
A breakthrough in UN-backed Syria peace talks, which started in Geneva last week, seems hardly more likely than in seven failed earlier rounds as President Bashar al-Assad pushes for total military victory, and his opponents stick by their demand he leave power, news wires reported.
The beginning of the talks was put into question as the Syrian government delegation, led by Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari, arrived in Geneva with one day of delay on Wednesday, because of the opposition's insistence that President Bashar al-Assad step down. Russia reportedly helped persuade the Syrians to attend the talks. For the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, this provides a rare opportunity the government and opposition to negotiate directly for the first time, but it was not certain if they would do so, according to him. Nasr Hariri, head of the newly-unified Syrian opposition delegation, told reporters in Geneva last Monday that he was aiming for a negotiated removal of Assad. The opposition reiterated in a statement its demand that Assad go before the start of a political transition under any peace deal.
“The Assad regime must not be allowed to play for time while people are being besieged and bombed,” Yahya al-Aridi, newly appointed head of the opposition’s negotiating committee, said.
The opposition’s stance is seen by Damascus and its allies as divorced from reality after the government’s steady march of victories since Russia entered the war in 2015. The rebels have been forced from all Syria’s big cities and their hopes of toppling Assad by military means look finished.
Last week, a senior Assad adviser said talks could succeed only if rebels laid down their arms.
On the field of war, the situation seems controversial. The Russian-proposed ceasefire in the Eastern Ghouta area of Syria has been widely observed, a war monitor and a witness said last Wednesday. But few days ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that air strikes on the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta district near Damascus has intensified, killing 41 people last weekend.
The current round of UN-mediated peace negotiations in Geneva between the Syrian government and the opposition have been extended to 15 December, satellite news channel Al Arabiya tweeted later on Wednesday, quoting unnamed sources. Al Arabiya sources reported also that US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield urged the Syrian opposition to include Kurdish groups in Geneva negotiations.
Meanwhile, Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said last Thursday Moscow was already preparing to withdraw its military contingent from Syria. The chief of the Russian military general staff said last week Russia's military force in Syria would likely be significantly reduced, and a drawdown could start before the end of the year.
The Syrian civil war, now in its seventh year, has killed over 340,000 people and sparked the world’s worst refugee crisis, driving some 11m from their homes.