UN failing to restart Syrian peace talks – Lavrov slams UN’s de Mistura

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Syrian President bashar al-assad with troops last month
Syrian President bashar al-assad with troops last month

RUSSIAN Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday lambasted the UN envoy for Syria for failing to restart peace talks aimed at ending the brutal five-year conflict.

‘We are concerned over the fact that the representative of the UN Secretary General (Staffan de Mistura) is shunning his duties and not convening the next round of inter-Syrian talks,’ Lavrov said at a press conference in the Azerbaijani capital Baku.

The UN-backed talks, aimed at ending a war that has left more than 280,000 people dead and driven millions from their homes, are in theory set to resume this month. But de Mistura has said that he wants guarantees of progress before restarting the process.

On Monday, de Mistura said a ‘crucial moment’ had been reached in attempts to broker a political settlement, adding that ‘the key lies in a possible agreement between Russia and the United States’. Lavrov said on Tuesday this approach was ‘wrong’. ‘Syrians themselves must decide the fate of their country,’ he said. ‘External players, including Russia and the US, can of course continue influencing them.’

US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to visit Moscow this week to seek common ground on how to deal with the ongoing bloodshed in Syria. State Department spokesman John Kirby on Monday played down reports that Washington and Moscow may agree on coordinated US-Russian military action against jihadist groups Al-Nusra Front and the so-called Islamic State.

The US ‘promised in January that the (Syrian opposition) groups that are cooperating with Washington will be withdrawn from the positions held by Al-Nusra,’ Lavrov said. ‘But so far this has not been done. The issue will be discussed during Kerry’s visit to Moscow as this is an obligation undertaken by the US,’ he said.

Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria last year to support long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad while the West has repeatedly accused Russian forces of targeting non-jihadist rebels.

Washington, which is leading a separate bombing campaign against the IS group, has repeatedly urged Moscow to pressure its ally into agreeing on a ceasefire with so-called ‘moderate’ guerrillas and to enter peace talks, but fierce fighting has continued.

• Syria’s army has extended a nationwide truce for another three days, but continued on Tuesday to press its campaign against rebels in the battered northern city of Aleppo. In a statement late on Monday, the armed forces said it would ‘extend the freeze on fighting on all Syrian territory for 72 hours beginning at 00:01 on July 12.’

It was the second extension to the temporary truce, first announced last week to mark Eid al-Fitr, which is the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. But the ceasefire has produced little respite in fighting, with ongoing strikes by the regime and its Russian ally reported around the city of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

‘Russian and regime warplanes are shelling the northern edges of the city and the regime seized several buildings in Leramun,’ said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. Rebels were using Leramun, an industrial district on the northwestern edge of Aleppo, and the nearby Bani Zeid neighbourhood to fire rockets and artillery onto regime-held parts of the city, he said.

‘The immediate goal is to push opposition fighters out of the city to stop the shelling,’ he said. In recent days, rebels have fired a barrage of missiles into the government-held western side of Aleppo, killing dozens of civilians.

Rebel forces in the eastern part of Aleppo have also waged battles with regime troops along the frontline that divides the city between government and opposition control.

Abdel Rahman said there was little evidence of the truce taking effect anywhere in the country.

‘There are clashes everywhere – Homs, Hama, Latakia, Aleppo. Only Daraa is quiet,’ he said, referring to the southern province. Aleppo city, once Syria’s economic powerhouse, has been ravaged by the conflict that began in March 2011 and has killed more than 280,000 people.

Last Thursday, government forces effectively severed the last supply route into the rebel-held east, the Castello Road, when they took a hilltop within firing range. The Britain-based Observatory said air strikes hit the Castello Road and the surrounding area on Tuesday.

With the route effectively shut, there are concerns that the roughly 200,000 residents of rebel-controlled neighbourhoods, according to the Observatory, could face a long siege. Civilians have already reported shortages of food and fuel in the east of Aleppo, with local market stalls sparsely stocked and prices rising. The UN says nearly 600,000 Syrians live in besieged areas of the country, most surrounded by government forces, although rebels also use the tactic.

• Meanwhile in provinces throughout Syria the Syrian Army and the popular forces, backed by the Air Force, continued on Tuesday striking gatherings and fortified positions of ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nusra and other terrorist organisation across the country, inflicting heavy losses upon terrorists in personnel and equipment.

In the Damascus countryside the Syrian Air Force on Tuesday carried out several sorties on gatherings of ISIS terrorists in Khan al-Manqoura, 40km south of al-Seen airport and Beir al-Manqoura, 25km to the north of the airport, a military officer told SANA.

The sorties resulted in killing and injuring a number of terrorists and destroying fortified positions for ISIS terrorist organisation and vehicles loaded with arms and ammunition. In Daraa army units inflicted losses in personnel and equipment on terrorist groups affiliated to Jabhat al-Nusra in Daraa al- Balad. The army units destroyed a machinegun-equipped vehicle, fortified positions, and an observation post for terrorists at the southern side of al-Jumrok al-Qadeem (old Jumrok) area in Daraa.

Meanwhile, an army unit foiled a terrorist group’s attack against a military post in Daraa al-Balad, killing and injuring all members of the terrorist group. In Quneitra an army unit, in cooperation with popular defence groups in al-Baath city, carried out a special operation against a terrorist group which was moving in the area surrounding the main square in Quneitra.

A field officer told SANA reporter that the operation ended up with destroying a vehicle and killing a number of terrorists, most of them are members in Jabhat al-Nusra in al-Rawabi site to the north of the main square in Quneitra. In Homs the Syrian Air Force also carried out sorties against ISIS terrorists’ dens in the eastern countryside of Homs, destroying two command centres of the terrorists.

The sorties targeted the surrounding of al-Sawame’ area, about 15 km to the east of Palmyra city in Homs Province where two ISIS command centres were destroyed. In Deir Ezzor in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the Air Force destroyed vehicles for ISIS, some of which were equipped with machine guns, as strikes hit gatherings of terrorists in al-Mrei’iyeh and al-Jafra, 10 km southeast of Deir Ezzor city.

More vehicles and a number of fortifications for ISIS terrorists were hit in army airstrikes in the vicinity of al-Tharda Mountain on the southern outskirts of Deir Ezzor province. Many terrorists were killed as well.

l The members of the new Syrian government have taken the constitutional oath of office before the country’s President Bashar al-Assad. The swearing-in ceremony was held in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Monday, following a decree issued by Assad on June 22, as to the formation of a new government under the premiership of Syria’s Electricity Minister Imad Khamis, Syria’s official news agency, SANA, reported.

Assad said Syrian citizens have ‘high hopes’ for the new government, adding that the difficult circumstances in the country place double responsibilities on the cabinet members. He pointed out the need for dealing with citizens in a transparent manner and at the same time keeping them informed of efforts made by the government and their results, even if they fail to materialise their hopes.

‘National media establishments need to tackle the issues that interest citizens and to address their concerns rather than just being the voice of the government,’ SANA quoted the Syrian president as saying. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also stressed that citizens’ living conditions must be ‘a priority’ for the government.

The Syrian president further noted that implementing clear structures and mechanisms for ministries’ work, transparent media coverage, and improving administrative development can help limit corruption.

Elsewhere in the ceremony, the new ministers, for their part, stressed that the difficult conditions resulting from the terrorist war imposed on the Syrian people only make them more determined to double their efforts to find solutions and alleviate the citizens’ burdens.

The new Syrian cabinet consists of 26 ministers and five advisors, forming the sixth government under Assad as president.