Sev­enth set of talks on Syria peace ends

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - JAMEY KEATEN In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Edith M. Led­erer and Bassem Mroue of The Associated Press.

GENEVA — The sev­enth round of talks aimed at end­ing Syria’s 6-year- old civil war wrapped up Fri­day, and a United Na­tions en­voy said they fea­tured “in­cre­men­tal progress.”

Staffan de Mis­tura, the spe­cial U.N. en­voy for Syria, said the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment has not budged in its un­will­ing­ness to dis­cuss po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion at the talks in Geneva. He said the fight against ter­ror­ism was a con­sis­tent theme for Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Say­ing As­sad’s en­voys claim to be the only ones talk­ing about the fight against ter­ror­ist groups, de Mis­tura said no side should have “own­er­ship” of that is­sue. He went on to “clar­ify some thoughts” about ter­ror­ism, mostly re­it­er­at­ing long-stand­ing U.N. po­si­tions that he be­lieves have in­creas­ingly ap­peared dor­mant.

“I felt that there was an ex­pec­ta­tion for the U.N. to in­di­cate where we are in the fight against ter­ror­ism, which is be­com­ing the main is­sue be­ing dis­cussed at the high­est pos­si­ble level else­where,” de Mis­tura said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to the fo­cus of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and others on com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism.

Syria’s main op­po­si­tion group has tried to put the talks’ spot­light on po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion in their coun­try, some­thing sought by a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion in De­cem­ber 2015. It has been a bedrock text un­der­ly­ing de Mis­tura’s ef­forts.

The U.N. en­voy said he has seen no sign that As­sad’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives would ever dis­cuss po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion. “I have been ask­ing them for the next round to be ready to ad­dress the po­lit­i­cal process,” he said.

De Mis­tura also noted re­cent progress in Syria through in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy, such as a tem­po­rary truce in parts of south­ern Syria that was bro­kered by Jor­dan, Rus­sia and the United States.

He warmly wel­comed a call by French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron for the cre­ation of a “con­tact group” that would sup­port a po­lit­i­cal road map for Syria af­ter its war ends.

In New York, France’s am­bas­sador to the U.N., Fran­cois De­lat­tre, said a con­tact group would aim to sup­port de Mis­tura’s ef­forts. The plan would en­list the five per­ma­nent Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mem­bers — the United States, Rus­sia, China, Bri­tain and France — and re­gional play­ers.

De­lat­tre stressed that “the fight against ter­ror­ism is our No. 1 pri­or­ity” and that the only way to get rid of ter­ror­ists “is through a ne­go­ti­ated po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion.” He called for a “cred­i­ble, ro­bust and in­clu­sive mon­i­tor­ing mech­a­nism” for the Syr­ian cease-fire.

Re­fer­ring to the Septem­ber round of talks, de Mis­tura said, “We will see whether by that time the in­ter­na­tional mo­men­tum … may be able to ac­tu­ally push all sides to fi­nally sit in the same room and start talk­ing about sub­stance.”

The sides have been meet­ing sep­a­rately with de Mis­tura and his team, never speak­ing face to face.

The head of the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion, Bashar al-Ja’afari, said ear­lier that his team has not been asked to hold di­rect talks.

Al­lud­ing to for­eign back­ers of the main Syr­ian op­po­si­tion group, in­clud­ing Saudi Ara­bia and Turkey, as well as those who sup­port smaller fac­tions, Ja’afari said that “the most im­por­tant thing is for us to have a na­tional part­ner, and not a client for for­eign agen­das.”

Mean­while, clashes have bro­ken out in north­west­ern Syria between two of the most pow­er­ful in­sur­gent groups there, rais­ing fears of wide­spread vi­o­lence in the rebel-held prov­ince of Idlib, the groups and an op­po­si­tion mon­i­tor said Satur­day.

The fight­ing between the ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive Ahrar al- Sham and the al- Qaidalinked Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee are the first se­ri­ous acts of vi­o­lence since the sides reached a truce in Fe­bru­ary. Wider clashes between the two for­mer al­lies could af­fect their fight against As­sad’s forces, who have been gain­ing ground over the past year un­der the cover of Rus­sian airstrikes.

Idlib has taken on greater sig­nif­i­cance in Syria’s civil war as op­po­si­tion fight­ers and mil­i­tants head, or are driven, there from the coun­try’s cen­tral and north­ern re­gions. Border­ing Turkey, Idlib has wel­comed thou­sands of in­sur­gents who left the coun­try’s largest city, Aleppo, when it fell to As­sad’s forces in De­cem­ber.

Hun­dreds of others headed to Idlib this year from sub­urbs of the cap­i­tal, Da­m­as­cus, and the cen­tral city of Homs as part of pop­u­la­tion trans­fer deals with the gov­ern­ment.

Ahrar al-Sham said in a statement Satur­day that the Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee is send­ing re­in­force­ments to the town of Saraqeb and the Ja­bal al- Zawiya re­gion in prepa­ra­tion for an at­tack. It ac­cused the group of acts of “tyranny.”

The Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee’s Ibaa News Agency ac­cused Ahrar al-Sham of set­ting up check­points and de­tain­ing one of its com­man­ders and his body­guard, adding that the al- Qaidalinked group re­moved the check­points later by force.

Ibaa quoted a Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee com­man­der, who was iden­ti­fied as Mouawiyah al-Hashimi, as say­ing that the two groups agreed to solve the cri­sis in ac­cor­dance with Is­lamic law. He added that Ahrar al-Sham is­sued its statement about re­in­force­ments af­ter the at­tempt to solve the dis­pute.

The Bri­tain- based Syr­ian Observatory for Hu­man Rights said clashes late Fri­day were con­cen­trated near the vil­lage of Tel Touqan. It added that af­ter the clashes, Ahrar al-Sham briefly cut wa­ter sup­plies to the cap­i­tal of Idlib prov­ince, which is mostly con­trolled by the Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee.

AP/XU JINQUAN

Staffan de Mis­tura, U.N. spe­cial en­voy for Syria, speaks Fri­day at a news con­fer­ence at Palais des Na­tions in Geneva, in this photo made avail­able Satur­day.

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