United Na­tions backs Syria peace plan af­ter deadly regime strikes

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY RANA MOUS­SAOUI

The U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil has backed a push for Syr­ian peace talks in a rare show of unity af­ter wide­spread con­dem­na­tion of regime air strikes that killed nearly 100 peo­ple.

An­a­lysts said the vote was a sign of new re­solve to ad­dress Syria’s con­flict, par­tic­u­larly as the threat of the Is­lamic State group grows, but cau­tioned that it was only a first step and vast dif­fer­ences be­tween the two sides re­mained.

The Se­cu­rity Coun­cil state­ment, the first of its kind in two years, urges a po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion and backs a plan to cre­ate work­ing groups to dis­cuss end­ing the war.

It was ap­proved hours af­ter U.N. of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s peace en­voy for Syria Staffan de Mis­tura, ex­pressed hor­ror at regime air strikes that killed nearly 100 peo­ple in a rebel-held town near Damascus.

On Tues­day, Syria’s gov­ern­ment hit back at de Mis­tura’s crit­i­cism, ac­cus­ing him of “mak­ing state­ments that lack ob­jec­tiv­ity.”

The 16-point coun­cil state­ment backed an ap­proach out­lined by de Mis­tura last month af­ter talks with par­ties to the four-year con­flict.

It seeks to set up four work­ing groups with mem­bers drawn from the gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion to dis­cuss safety and pro­tec­tion, coun­tert­er­ror­ism, po­lit­i­cal and le­gal is­sues and re­con­struc­tion.

The coun­cil urged “a Syr­i­an­led po­lit­i­cal process lead­ing to a po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion that meets the le­git­i­mate as­pi­ra­tions of the Syr­ian peo­ple.”

A ‘first step’

It called for “the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­clu­sive tran­si­tional gov­ern­ing body with full ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers, which shall be formed on the ba­sis of mu­tual con­sent while en­sur­ing con­ti­nu­ity of gov­ern­men­tal in­sti­tu­tions.”

The state­ment made no men­tion of the fate of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad, whose fu­ture has long been a stick­ing point in talks on end­ing the con­flict.

As­sad and his back­ers in­sist he was le­git­i­mately elected and can­not be forced to step down, but the op­po­si­tion in­sists his de­par­ture must be part of any end to the war.

The Se­cu­rity Coun­cil vote fol- lows a flurry of diplo­matic ac­tiv­ity led by regime backer Moscow, which has in re­cent weeks hosted Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fig­ures as well as of­fi­cials from Saudi Ara­bia, a key op­po­si­tion backer.

The coun­cil’s vote re­flects “an una­nim­ity that is un­prece­dented for sev­eral years,” said an­a­lyst Karim Emile Bi­tar, a se­nior fel­low at the IRIS think tank in Paris.

“I think it re­flects a com­mon aware­ness of the gen­eral state of fa­tigue in both par­ties, the fa­tigue and even ex­haus­tion of both sides,” he said.

But Bi­tar said the road ahead would not be easy and the plan rep­re­sented only a “first step.”

“At this stage, nei­ther side is will­ing to make ad­di­tional con­ces­sions that could al­low this rap­proche­ment to have con­crete ef­fects on the ground.”

Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fig­ure Haytham Manna told AFP that ef­forts were al­ready un­der way to find fig­ures to serve on the four com­mit­tees.

“The com­mit­tees will work at their own pace and the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil will get in­volved if there are block­ages and vote on res­o­lu­tions when there are ad­vances in dif­fer­ent ar­eas,” he said.

He said the sen­si­tive is­sue of As­sad’s fu­ture would be dis­cussed once the com­mit­tees be­gan work­ing, or per­haps to­wards the end of their talks.

Damascus Slams UN En­voy

The Se­cu­rity Coun­cil vote came af­ter gov­ern­ment air strikes on a rebel-held town out­side Damascus killed nearly 100 peo­ple on Sun­day, prompt­ing wide­spread crit­i­cism.

The strikes on Douma, many of which hit a mar­ket­place, were among the dead­li­est gov­ern­ment at­tacks in the con­flict.

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights mon­i­tor said at least 96 peo­ple were killed in the strikes, which U.N. of­fi­cials called “un­ac­cept­able.”

De Mis­tura, speak­ing Mon­day, de­scribed the strikes as “dev­as­tat­ing.”

“Hit­ting crowded civil­ian mar­kets killing al­most one hun­dred of its own cit­i­zens by a gov­ern­ment is un­ac­cept­able in any cir­cum­stances,” he said.

On Tues­day, Damascus hit back at the crit­i­cism, ac­cus­ing de Mis­tura of fail­ing to up­hold the neutrality re­quired of his role.

AP

This photo pro­vided by the Syr­ian anti-gov­ern­ment ac­tivist group Douma Revo­lu­tion, which has been au­then­ti­cated based on its con­tents and other AP re­port­ing, shows peo­ple rid­ing mo­tor­cy­cles past smoke from a Syr­ian gov­ern­ment airstrike, in Douma, a sub­urb of Damascus, Syria, Tues­day, Aug. 18.

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