Saturday 18 November 2017

UN backs Russian peace map for Syria, despite concerns

Decision represents victory for Assad - and a black eye for the UN-hosted talks in Geneva

A SHAKY PEACE IS BETTER THAN NONE: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pic: AP
A SHAKY PEACE IS BETTER THAN NONE: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pic: AP

John Davison in Beirut

The UN Security Council yesterday unanimously adopted a resolution supporting efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the nearly six-year conflict in Syria and jump-start peace negotiations.

The resolution also called for the "rapid, safe and unhindered" delivery of humanitarian aid throughout Syria. And it anticipates a meeting of the Syrian government and opposition representative in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in late January.

The resolution's final text dropped an endorsement of the Syria ceasefire agreement reached on Thursday, as Western members of the council sought changes to the circulated draft resolution to clarify the UN's role and the meaning of the agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara.

Meanwhile on the ground in Syria, rebels warned yesterday that cease-fire violations by pro-government forces threatened to undermine a two-day-old agreement intended to pave the way for talks between the government and the opposition in the new year.

Airstrikes pounded opposition-held villages and towns in the strategically-important Barada Valley outside Damascus, activists said, prompting rebels to threaten to withdraw their compliance with a nationwide truce brokered by Russia and Turkey last week.

Rebels also accused the government of signing a different version of the agreement to the one they signed in the Turkish capital of Ankara, further complicating the latest diplomatic efforts to bring an end to six years of war.

Nearly 50,000 people died in the conflict in 2016, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which maintains networks of contacts on all sides of the war. More than 13,000 of them were civilians, according to the Observatory. Various estimates have put the war's overall toll at around 400,000 dead.

If the truce holds, the government and the opposition will be expected to meet for talks for the first time in nearly a year in the Kazakh capital of Astana in the second half of January. Those talks will be mediated by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

Meanwhile, The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani confirmed their commitment to negotiations in Astana, in a phone conversation between the two leaders.

Iran and Russia have provided crucial military and diplomatic support to Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the conflict, while Turkey has served as a rear base and source of supplies for the opposition.

However in a statement issued by a coalition of 11 rebel factions, including the powerful Army of Islam group operating in the Damascus countryside, some rebels said they could not abide by the ceasefire if the government continued its assault on Barada Valley.

The statement also complained that the government's version of the agreement signed in Ankara last week had deleted "a number of essential and non-negotiable points".

It said the opposition had agreed to a cease-fire encompassing the whole of Syria, without any exceptions to region or faction.

The Barada Valley Media Centre said Lebanese Hezbollah militants were firing on villages and towns in the water-rich region as Russian and government aircraft carried out raids for the 10th consecutive day yesterday. The Lebanese militant group is a key ally to President Assad's forces.

The Barada Valley is the primary source of water for the capital and its surrounding region. The government assault has coincided with a severe water shortage in Damascus since December 22. Images from the valley's Media Centre indicate its Ain al-Fijeh spring and water processing facility have been destroyed in airstrikes. The government says rebels spoiled the water source with diesel fuel, forcing it to cut supplies to the capital.

©Associated Press

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